TOPSS 20th anniversary

20 years of support for high school psychology

By Jann Longman, MA

TOPSS 20th anniversaryThis year marks the 20th anniversary of the American Psychological Association (APA) Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools (TOPSS). In 1992 an interim steering committee was formed by APA, and in 1993 the TOPSS Committee was officially established. Twenty years later, TOPSS is a vibrant committee of teachers who work to ensure that psychology is taught as a behavioral science and who collaborate to provide many of the instructional materials that help to make that happen.

The TOPSS Committee consists of seven teachers from around the country and two college advisors. There are liaisons to TOPSS from other APA committees, and TOPSS’ work is supported by staff from the APA Education Directorate. The TOPSS Committee meets twice a year in Washington, D.C.

Twenty years ago, psychology was not a common class in high schools across the nation, and where it was taught, there was no standardized curriculum. Often, untrained teachers taught what they were interested in without much attention to things like the scientific method and biopsychology.

What a difference 20 years has made. TOPSS members and representatives, with support of the APA Board of Educational Affairs, worked diligently to create and promote the National Standards for High School Psychology Curricula, originally named the National Standards for the Teaching of High School Psychology. The second updated version of the National Standards (APA, 2011) was just approved last year. The National Standards has been sent to every state department of education in the hope that states will adopt it.

TOPSS and the Education Directorate have worked to create unit lesson plans for teachers and continue to update these unit plans and develop new ones. TOPSS was also involved in the development of national teacher preparation guidelines for teachers of psychology, as demonstrated in the newly released Guidelines for Preparing High School Psychology Teachers: Course-Based and Standards-Based Approaches (APA, 2012). The TOPSS Committee sponsors an annual essay or poster competition for students and the APA TOPSS Excellence in Teaching Awards. In addition, TOPSS offers professional development opportunities for teachers, such as the annual APA/Clark University Workshop for High School Teachers (cosponsored by APA, the American Psychological Foundation, and Clark University). This year, thanks to generous funding from APA President Suzanne Bennett Johnson, PhD, teachers could also apply to take students to the annual APA convention in Florida this summer.

High school psychology has grown tremendously since 1992. That year, just under 4,000 students took the Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology exam; this year more than 200,000 exams were taken (official 2012 exam numbers not released as of the time this article was published). The numbers for the AP Psych test grow about 20 percent each year, and the test now ranks in the top six subjects of AP tests given. The International Baccalaureate (IB) program in psychology has also grown. In 2011 16,000 IB Psychology exams were given worldwide (M. Wilson, Global Management Information Associate Manager at the International Baccalaureate Organization, personal communication, June 16, 2011). Figures from the National Center for Education Statistics (U.S. Department of Education, 2011) show that 30 percent of students across the United States have earned credit in a high school psychology course before graduating.

High school psychology is thriving, in large part due to the support of APA and the work of TOPSS and other high school teachers across the country. Let’s hear it for another 20 years!

Please visit the TOPSS website for a listing of “Twenty Years of TOPSS Accomplishments,” a timeline of TOPSS events and milestones, and thoughts about the TOPSS anniversary from past TOPSS Committee members!

Jann LongmanJann Longman is the current chairperson for the APA Committee of Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools (TOPSS). She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Stanford University, and a master’s degree from the University of Southern California.  She has been teaching Psychology and Advanced Psychology classes for 25 years in Issaquah, Washington, and also teaches online classes. She recently did a presentation on the new National Standards for High School Psychology Curricula at the Western Psychological Association conference.



U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). America’s high school graduates: Results from the 2009 NAEP High School Transcript Study.