For those of you who have children who will be taking Advanced Placement tests, it should be comforting for you to know that the College Board, who administers the exam, makes sure that trained professionals are there to read what your children wrote, and that the actual writing is not being graded by a machine of some sort. This is why I was absent from Daily Kos last week. I was one of 1200 history teachers, drawn from a pool of college people like me and high school teachers who teach AP courses. They bill this, especially for the high school teachers, as a week when they will be among people who care as much about history as they do, which is not usually the case in the average high school (or so my friends tell me). And for seven days, from 8 AM to 5:30 PM, we read essays, with sufficient breaks so we shouldn't start falling asleep over essays, and we grade them. They even have speakers in the evening.
Very noble. It's not the reason pretty much ANYONE I know does this. We grade so we can see each other, and over the five or seven or eight or twelve years we've been doing this, we make really good friends, very much like the friends we make here in the Kos community, in fact, and my friends from the reading make up the bulk of my Facebook friends. What we did, or at least what we did that I think you'll find interesting, below the divider doodle.
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As I reflect back on the week, this is not going to be as easy to write as I thought. Much of it is really inside baseball information, like the fact that we spend the week at a table with a table leader and six other people and we have to have roommates unless we want to surrender half of our income we earn doing this. This year was especially challenging because I know a lot of people and the ones who aren't my Facebook friends had no idea Jim had died (some of my Facebook friends didn't know either thus so much for Facebook). I have a feeling you don't want to know exactly how much I drank either (it was more than I usually drink in the average month).
I should say something about the table, though. What you hope for is nobody with real eccentricities because those can be distracting when you're trying to read upwards of 300 essays a day (my total for the week? 1850, and I wasn't reading as fast as I usually do). But sometimes you have what everybody who does this calls a "magic table" in which everybody really likes each other. I was at one my second year, and three of my tablemates then are now among my closest friends at the reading now. Incidentally, they're all high school teachers. Up until this year ALL my friends at the reading were high school teachers, but this year I made friends with another community college instructor (and possible future Kossack). In my experience, some of the college readers have attitudes. Not for me, thanks.
So anyhow. The questions might interest you. The exam consists of one "document-based" question where students are given 11-12 documents and a question to answer using them and everything else they know and four "free-response" questions which test what they know and how well they can structure an essay about the subject. We grade the free-response questions first because they're supposed to be simpler than the document-based question to assess.
And about assessment. We get a rubric for each question and when you've been doing this long enough you can tell just HOW ETS is jiggering the numbers to make sure they have enough exams that get a 5 or above (we grade on a nine-point scale, and we almost never see anything that warrants an eight or a nine). I'll refer to these when we look at the questions.
So I was on free-response question #5, which 72% of the students who took the test answered. They get to choose one out of two essays for the period before 1865 and the period after 1865. This is what I had to grade:
Between 1945 and 1975 various groups in the United States engaged in protest. Analyze the reasons that protest emerged in the period for TWO of the following groups:Sure. Almost immediately, I realized I was the only one at my table who had been affected by ANY of this since my 20th birthday was in 1969, so I became the expert on the draft. Almost every essay I read addressed the civil rights movement, about half in appropriate chronological order. College students came next, then women, then Latino Americans. So you know the drill. Brown v Board of Education, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Betty Friedan and Cesar Chavez. Also Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. All kinds of renderings of The Feminine Mystique, one as The Mystical Spring (conflation with Rachel Carson). Woodstock was presented about 70% of the time as a protest against the Vietnam War. The better students understood that SNCC was a student movement, but that happened maybe 10% of the time. The problem with this essay is that students thought they knew something about. The essays were long, and you had to read for analysis, so it was a slow read at that. I'd also like to know where all the wild sex college students were having because of the pill was going on; I certainly didn't partake of much of that. You could get a 5 or above by doing the equivalent of spelling "raccoon" too. I don't remember EVER having had as much trouble with a free-response question as I did with this one, and I wasn't alone in feeling that way about it.
The document-based question was frankly easier to grade. That one was about the anti-slavery movement:
Analyze the causes of the growing opposition to slavery in the United States from 1776 to 1852. In your response, consider both underlying forces and specific events that contributed to the growing opposition.Consider both parts in a way that's evident to the reader, and a 5 it is. But one more hoop: "outside information." Or something you know that isn't in the documents. One of the documents was a poster announcing a new printing of Uncle Tom's Cabin. All the student had to do there was to write "Harriet Beecher Stowe" and presto, outside information and the promised land. I'd say half of the essays I read didn't bother to do that. And some of the outside information? Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. I was reminded that the AP teachers who were participating in the grading process represented maybe 1% of all the AP teachers in the country and the other 99% were probably worse than my colleagues at teaching the subject.
But enough about that. Besides bourbon, Louisville has some interesting craft brewers. And some interesting places to eat. ETS fed us, but the food was AWFUL just like it was the first year in Louisville, and I switched to the salad bar for the last five lunches. They gave us a $25 per diem for two nights (Tuesday and Thursday), and I had dinner out Wednesday and Friday too, because, well, really, enough was enough. Most interesting place? The Holy Grale. Amazing herb garden, menu of small plates that go well with beer. Oh, yes. We went to a baseball game (the AAA Louisville Bats, a farm team for Cincinnati - $1 beer from 5:30-7:00 PM) and we went to Churchill Downs ($2 beer). We do this every year.
And the biggest surprise? You can't fly direct from Los Angeles to Louisville, and my flight back deposited me at MSP (Minneapolis/St. Paul) to change planes. Those of you who fly in and out of the bay area know about the food court at Terminal 2 at SFO where American and Virgin America have their gates. From what I saw from at least the F and G Concourses at MSP, the entire AIRPORT is Terminal 2 but a lot more user-friendly. Now, if I have to change planes going someplace east of the Mississippi, I'll make sure I change planes at MSP.
One final note. One of my friends (a woman from eastern [Appalachian] Kentucky who is one of the brightest people I know, period) came up with a wonderful analogy about the reading and the community of readers,
Brigadoon is a Scottish village which appears every hundred years for one day, as part of a deal with God which protects the village from harm. For the citizens of the village, the century passes as though it is only a single night. The enchantment on the village of Brigadoon will only last as long as no citizen leaves. If the enchantment is broken, the village will disappear forever into the Highland mists.In this case, once a year, and it starts to disappear on the last night of the reading when people who live within a six hour drive (like my friend) start to leave. I'll read for as long as they let me -- it's a wonderful experience. And I suspect the week was good training for Netroots Nation 13!
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