Scoring the AP exam

1030 essays.

This is the number of essays I ended up scoring this past week (June 11 – 17) for the AP Language Exam in Louisville, KY. Not counting Saturday, when we ended up spending most of the day looking at sample papers and calibrating our scoring, that comes out to about 170 a day. At the end of the week, the essays started looking really similar to one another, and a heavy glaze seemed to cover my eyes each afternoon. But despite this, I would jump at the opportunity to do it again.

And, yes (hell, yes), the Collegeboard paid me to do this.

I had found out I had been selected as a scorer in early April, and knowing I wasn’t teaching summer school at either Consolidated or Blinn, this was going to be the only chance for me to make some money for the family during the summer, unless I took a part time job as a sandwich artist or something. My wife was a bit tentative about it – she wasn’t sure it would be worth the time and wondered about expenses, but airfare/food/hotel expenses are all paid for so my out of pocket expenses would be rather minimal. So she agreed to my going out there.

Airfare was taken care of through email – they sent me instructions and I had to select the airline/times myself. It was a little overwhelming – a lot of information was being thrown at me and I basically just took the first itinerary I saw with what I thought were convenient times (ha! more on that in another post). My good friend J-Roy drove me out to Houston Intercontinental Friday morning and I was off. The flight and the connecting flight went smoothly – in fact, I was only really stressed out about what I needed to do after picking up my bag. But they had a guy with a sign at baggage claim so getting to the hotel was hassle-free.

A little background – there were over 400,000 students who took the AP Language exam, making it (for the first time) the largest AP testing group this year – normally it’s AP History. This means, for those of you unfamiliar with the AP Language test, that there were over 1.2 million handwritten essays waiting to be scored on a 1-9 scale (3 essays written by each student). The Collegeboard hired around 1200 scorers for the AP Language test, and another 1200 or so for the Literature Exam (scored at the same time) – Louisville saw such an influx of high school and college English instructors – enough to make the average high school student’s hair turn white. Surprisingly, in my time there, I didn’t meet one jerk. I was among “my people”.

The organization that this type of event must have is extraordinary. I never had questions about what I needed to do or where I needed to be. Of course, the meals could have been better, but serving 2400 people over a week without some misses is probably expecting a bit too much (note to meal organizers: scratch the Turkey Pot Pie). And there was a lot to do in Louisville after 5:00, when scoring ended. I took in a AAA Louiville Bats game (vs. the Toledo Mudhens), visited the Louisville Slugger Museum, went to Churchill Downs and lost $4 on a horse that couldn’t even show (I HOPE YOU’RE GLUE, YOU NAG), and frequented a couple bars only three blocks from the hotel.

Me at Churchill Downs before I lost $4 on a slow-ass horse that couldn't even show.

For those interested, scoring the essays involves dividing the 1200 into three groups and assigning each group a particular question. I drew the rhetorical analysis (I got into Louisville dreading scoring the synthesis prompt) – this year it was a speech by suffragette and child labor activist Florence Kelley. The groups are then divided into tables of 8 or 9, with an experienced table leader leading the scoring efforts at each table. I was one of three first year scorers at my table, and I’ll admit I was slow the first couple days (or so I thought). We are given folders containing 25 tests, and read the essay once and score it according to the AP scale. During the first two/three days, after we got done with a folder, it was given to our table leader, Ann, for her to back-read the essays and make sure our scoring was accurate. After those 2-3 days it became more spot-checking. One guy at my table, Charles, seemed to lap me in scoring – he seemed to do 2 for every 1 folder I completed for those first 3 days. My speed got better over the course of the week, of course, and at the end of the week Ann told me that I had been very fast and accurate. I was just happy that I was accurate.

Reading the essays was an eye-opening experience. One, I’m spoiled – my students are, more often than not, very well taught/prepared prior to coming into my class and their in-class essays prove it. Two, the disparity between schools across the nation is vast and it is troubling. I scored essays where students had no idea what to do, and they admitted as much in their essays. I scored essays that could not string two grammatically correct sentences together. There were essays written that detailed what students had done the previous night (I never saw any of these), and there were essay packets that had dollar bills taped inside as bribes (sadly, I never saw any of these, either). I went through folders where the highest score of the 25 was a four (“inadequate”), and regularly saw folders where the highest score was a 6 (“adequate”). All of this led me to think about Texas’ top 10 percent legislation, and while well-intentioned, it completely disregards the fact that all high schools are not equal, and treating them as such is an injustice to students who excel at high-performing high schools but are just outside the top 10 percent. The top 10 percent legislation was/is a band-aid cure for a system that requires open-heart surgery.

The Bats would end up losing 3-1 to the Mudhens, giving up 15 hits.

I also read some pretty terrific essays (though very rare), and feel confident that our AP classes’ scores will be solid once again. The experience of scoring so many essays and talking with others about the essay will strengthen my own ability to prepare my students for the exam. I also met some pretty fantastic people while there, and hope to run into y’all again down the road (Rory, Jane, Sal, Bill, Brad).

Overall, the week was a damn good time, and the scoring not nearly as tedious as I thought it would be (though, I admit, Wednesday was a beat down). I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to doing it again next year.

Though Delta Airlines can kiss my ass (post on that debacle coming soon).

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