I thought I’d begin with a visual representation of work thus far in grading Advanced Placement US History exams. Each ‘l’ represents an exam graded and the curve demonstrates how the scores are spread out over (currently) eight separate ratings.
I first wondered about AP history exams when I took my own test. How will this get graded, I thought? And who is willing to sift through all of these essays? Years after wondering, I was hired to read exams and traveled to Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas to begin the process of ’embracing’ the standards. That year, just about 187,000 exams were scored by the roughly 875 graders – each exam contains three essay responses. This year, just over a decade later, there are 410,000 exams, over 1200 readers, and a total of 1.25 million essays to read.
The numbers of people taking the exam is, in some ways, astonishing. I’ve had mixed feelings about the exam for years, feelings that have increased since I began my own college teaching career full time.
On the one hand, successful exam takers can earn college credit, thereby saving them money and perhaps time during college. On the other hand, the exam does not necessarily reflect the typical college level survey experience – at least, it doesn’t reflect the surveys I teach.
That fact is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is the idea that successful students might learn some good history on the way towards saving money. But, as the exam grows larger and larger, I have to always ask myself whether some students are not fully trained or prepared for the exam in front of them.
Both of my high school era AP history teachers had their strengths in terms of getting our class through the exam. When I became a teacher on my own, I incorporated several ideas from those two teachers, along with a host of information I learned at the grading week. Upon returning to my classroom, I believed I could give better instructions and strategies to all of my students, which could hopefully raise their scores.
As it turns out, the professional development I have experienced while at the reading has been tremendously helpful. I learned a lot about grading in general, but I also learned about explaining standards and found that the more I took the time to explain my expectations to my students, lo!, the more willing the students were to go on an academic journey with me.
Today was a revisit to those earlier experiences and a reminder of good work that can emerge from a testing and grading learning opportunity. On top of that accomplishment, I was able to take in some of the river area for Louisville. A delightful walk revealed wharfs, riverboats, fountains, walking paths, ultimate frisbee games, a view of the Louisville Bats stadium, etc!