In the Upper School, we hope that all of our students have visited the Summer Work section of Argonet in order to keep up to date with assignments and recommended reading for the upcoming school year. While summer should also be a time to rest and recharge, students are not the only ones hitting the books. Our teachers, especially those working with the Advanced Placement curriculum, have dedicated extensive hours of their summer vacation to honing their skills and refining their expertise.
Much of this mastery comes from serving as AP test graders. Once a teacher has taught an Advanced Placement course for three years, the College Board invites him or her to serve as an exam reader or “rater.” This commitment involves travel during an extremely busy time of year and long stretches of attentive reading in order to accurately score the exams taken by students across the country. For seven, straight, eight-hour days, it is draining, but rewarding work.
Some members of our faculty have served as long-standing AP raters. Dr. Jill Cooper has graded the Advanced Placement Psychology exam since 2006, when long term faculty member and mentor David Mazsa encouraged her to apply. Dr. Cooper tells us, “The way I prepare my students for the essay portion of the AP Psychology exam has changed completely since becoming a reader. I know exactly what my students must focus on to score points on that very important part of the exam. I bring real questions into my classroom and ask my students to do a simulated reading so they can see the difference between an essay that scores full credit and those that earn no points at all.”
World Language Department head, Mrs. Nandini Dutta, began grading the AP Spanish exam in 2007. She agrees that her involvement in the program has bolstered our academic program. Mrs. Dutta points out, “My teaching has changed a lot since I’ve been an AP teacher. Knowing exactly what is being looked for makes for very easy adjustments in one’s teaching. Since AP is really a vertical program and the changes need to be made over a period of time, my participation has inspired us to change the ways we teach as a department.”
Dr. Easley-Houser has graded the Advanced Placement US History exam since 2010 and served as a table leader for the first time last summer. As a table leader, she began the grading process earlier, creating rubrics and training other readers with sample essays. Once the formal grading process began, Dr. Easley-Houser then “backread” essays to ensure that the essays were being evaluated by the standards set by the College Board. Dr. Easley-Houser notices a direct link between her experience as an AP reader and her development as an instructor of the course: “Each year, I leave the reading experience with new thoughts about teaching specific historical ideas, depending on the question that I graded. Whether I think better about myths that are often written about a historical moment, or the fact that some students lack some basic historical literacy skills to understand changes over time, it helps me tweak my teaching better so that my own students do not make the same mistakes.”
Last year was Dr. Valerie Pierce’s first time serving a read for the AP Biology exams. She confided that she found the fourth day of grading most challenging—the novelty of the process had worn off but the end wasn’t yet in sight. She shared that she had the most fun meeting and hanging out with AP Bio teachers from all over the country. “I saw a lot of geeky t-shirts!”
Mr. Cohen also enjoys the camaraderie. “It's great to be surrounded by so many people who are all doing exactly what you're doing, and who love teaching the subject as much as you do. I've learned a lot and made a lot of friends each time I've gone.” Mr. Cohen acknowledges the daunting nature of the undertaking, “It's 9 days (including one day of travel on each end), 8:00-5:30, and while that's not the worst workday ever, it comes right as our school year is ending, so finding the energy to get up each day and plow through essays can be a challenge.”
Since the birth of his son Charlie and the publication of his recent book, Mr. Cohen has taken a few summers off from grading APs, but expects to return. “Before I became a reader,” he tells us, “I sometimes felt like I was driving on a road with no speed limit signs - I knew there was a speed limit, but I had no idea exactly what it might be. Going to the reading helped me get a sense of the exact skills I needed to stress with my students. I don't really ‘teach to the test’ in my class, but I always try to test to the test, if that makes sense, and the readings have helped me do that.”
We appreciate the extra hours that our dedicated faculty members devote to this aspect of teaching and hope that students will find their work inspiring and reassuring. “I want students to know that the readers are eager for them to do well. We are terribly disappointed when a student gets close to scoring a point but falls short. We are really excited to see a student marshal the information they need to get full credit on an essay.” Dr. Cooper confides. She adds, “I also want students to know that essays are read by humans, and we all know they are fallible. However, AP essays are read only after hours of training so that all the readers are scoring essays exactly the same way.”
When the Upper School office receives score reports in early July, we share our students’ anticipation of this news. We know how much work has gone into earning those scores. More and more, our faculty helps us remember how much work goes into calculating them.