I returned Monday afternoon from Daytona Beach, thus finishing my third year being an AP Reader for the English Language test.

Here’s the microwave background: The College Board offers Advanced Placement courses for 37 subjects. High school students take an AP test that, depending on the score, may earn them college credits. Regardless of whether the students earn college credits, the AP curriculum is a rigorous one and those students who enroll in the class fare far better in college than those who do not. (And for the doubtful, there’s statistical support, but that’s not the point of this blog post today.)

I started teaching AP English Language and Composition twelve years ago; three years ago-after applying and a two-year wait, I was invited to be an AP reader. My students and many of my friends decided that volunteering to read over 1,500 essays from any given Monday to Sunday provided me  a lifetime passport to Teacher-Nerd land.

Why do I subject myself to what some may see as a torture second only to seeing Britney bald or determining the genetic makeup of the pink amorphous stuff on the Shoney’s salad bar?

Because I left the first year knowing that the time I spent there would make me a better teacher. And every year since then, between what I learn with and from my colleagues, and what I learn from reading student essays, I’ve been better prepared to guide my students to success.

The task, in sheer numbers, seems overwhelming. This year, 915 teachers read 286,000 student essays. The students have two hours to respond to three prompts, three weighty prompts. For example, the question I scored required students to decide the ethics of offering incentives for charity. They had to argue for, against, or see both sides and support with examples from their reading, observation, and experience. Oh, and before they write their three essays, they have to finish a 55-question multiple choice section in one hour that includes passages that range from the 18th century to contemporary essays. This is NOT a test for the wimpy. In fact, after finishing my National Board assessment, my admiration for what these kids subject themselves to increased by the bucketsful.

We’re divided into three large rooms in a convention center across the street from the Daytona Hilton. Every reader is assigned a question and reads that question for eight days. We’re “normed” with rangefinders and benchmark essays, then we start “live” books. Each book is a folder of 25 student essays, identified only by barcodes and school numbers. We read the essay, use the rubric we’re provided to determine a score from 0-9, bubble, and repeat. When we finish a book, we raise our hands, and “runners” pick up the completed folders and drop off new ones. Each table of readers (6-8 at a table) has a table leader whose responsible for the newbies and for backreading to make sure that scores are valid. We begin at 8:30 and end at 4:45 with an hour for lunch, and one 15-minute break in the morning and one 15-minute break in the afternoon.

(to be continued…have to pause for an important pedicure…)


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