AP Teachers: Why You Should Be An AP Reader

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I sit in the hotel lobby of the Westin Crown Center, a hotel in downtown Kansas City, waiting for my roommate to arrive in the lobby so we can see each other off.  Larry will board a flight for Chicago where he teaches in a private school and I’ll go back home to teach in Oklahoma, but there are also over 1400 other high school teachers and college professors who will go home today after a challenging but unforgettable week.

My hotel, complete with all the amenities, three meals a day, my flight, my checked bag, and one night out on the town were all paid for by the event.  My needs are always met.  I even get to ride a charter bus to and from the Kansas City Convention Center where we score the exams.

The exams.

Scoring the AP Language Exam, question 1, is probably the most grueling experience of my life and at the same time the most educational.  I completely understand the synthesis question, having become the rubric by day two, and am confident that my scoring was true and fair.  I read and scored 950 essays this week.

Yes.  I counted.

I cannot divulge anything about the question or the scores, but I can tell you that I have a better understanding of the exam so that when I teach Advanced Placement Language and Composition, I can better prepare students for what they will expect.  Since my roommate was scoring a different question, I was able to pick his brain about that one as well.  Also, in the course of sitting at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the many professional events scheduled for us in the evenings, I was able to ask of other scorers about the other question on the test as well.  I also came home with definitive samples of essays that are not only anchor sets (tried and true scores of 1 to 9) but also what are called “range finders” which are scores that are “in the ballpark” but higher level and lower level within the individual scores.  The reasons for the scores are also clearly explained.

If you are an AP teacher, you need to go to College Board’s website and sign up in January of 2016.  It takes a lot of readers, and some of the readers are retired teachers who taught AP who are asked back year after year.  Together we scored over half a million tests.  (That’s three essays per test, by the way)  We were also joined by the biology and statistics readers this year.

Kansas City is beautiful, and there is much to do in the evening when we clock out at 5pm.  However, I spent every evening working on my new novel due out at the end of the week, and had plenty of quiet to do so.  A little science fiction novel that should do well once it picks up steam.

But most of all, the experience is the pinnacle of what an AP teacher can discover about their course.  Save the link above, and in January apply with haste.

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3 thoughts on “AP Teachers: Why You Should Be An AP Reader

  1. As a mentor of teens and young adults, a teacher and specialized educational service provider, and a bona fide grammar and writing nerd, I certainly have the ability to grade the AP tests; I just don’t think I have the stomach for it. I’d be thinking the whole time about the real kids behind it and how, for many, I’d be part of crushing their dreams with accurate scoring.

    As every year goes by, I do become more and more concerned about the writing skills — and the writing mentality — of high school and college kids, even those in AP courses. I have kids exclaim to me frequently that they “got a 95” on some AP writing assignment or other; yet when I look at the papers in question, I think, “We would have gotten a B- on this in sixth grade.” The sheer volume of errors left unmarked by teachers, the lack of any clear voice (where required) or compelling language choices — it’s just flabbergasting.

    What’s worse is when I sit down to plan college entrance essays with kids, and they express real anxiety — even dread — over my suggestion that they do not need to stick to “five-paragraph essay format.” I’m know for my impassioned declaration that the five-paragraph essay is NEVER used in real life outside of school (unless it just so happens that some piece of writing turned out to be five paragraphs arbitrarily). “Here’s what I’m going to say, along with three vague points; now here’s a paragraph giving supporting details for each of my three vague points; oh, and here at the end, I’ll tell you that I just told you what I told you.” Really — people would be fired if they wrote even emails this way!

    I sat with a high school student in his English classroom after school not long back, educating him on verb tenses. We had covered the simple and progressive forms and were just delving into perfect tenses. The English teacher came over with furrowed brow and asked what we were working on. “Perfect tense verb usage,” I replied. Irked, this teacher actually said, “I don’t teach that stuff. They don’t need to know that anymore.” I had all I could do not to say, “I know you don’t, that’s why I was called in.”

    Forget verb tenses for a moment. Most high school seniors I know could not even list the eight parts of speech, let alone identify them in even intermediate writing; nor could they tell you the difference between a direct object and indirect object if money was on the line. It’s no wonder that we also have kids having taken four years of a world language, and yet wholly unable to speak it; they don’t even understand their own language.

    How to we even broach the topics of voice or tone or style, when we don’t even have a foundation of rudimentary language usage in place?

    OK, now I’m just ranting. It’s just that I am passionate about writing and about kids! I guess the best I can do to counter my irritation is invest in individuals as I am able. So, I trust, Roger, that if you happen to come across the AP exam of one of my proteges, you’ll have an easy and enjoyable time of it.

    • I completely agree, Erik. The quality of education is falling apart in this country, and I blame NCLB. Teachers have been forced to teach to a test that is given at the end of the year, and no longer allowed to help students experience the joy of having their own voice.

      I feel that if we teach students a variety of composition methods (i.e. Toulmin, Rogerian) we can help them find a format that best suits their personal voice and still allows them to discuss ideas in a logical and interesting manner.

      I saw many upper level scores on the exam that were so beautiful that it restored my hope that there are still teachers out there doing their job. I also saw some of them that either didn’t care about their score or were never given the skills to succeed.

      I feel you, Erik. Like Wendell Berry said, we have to do what we can where we are, change the world a little bit at a time.

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