11 June 2005

The Read

I'll leave early tomorrow morning for Lincoln, Nebraska, home of the 2005 AP Biology Read. You see, last month about 120,000 students (including 21 of mine) took The Exam. The Exam includes 100 multiple choice questions which are scored by computer. It also includes four free response questions which must be scored by mortals.

This is my third year as a Reader. I applied for the position at the end of my first year of teaching AP Bio and was sent along following my second (even though the College Board would like you to have three years of experience teaching the course). The CB makes all the travel arrangements, takes care of your accommodations, feeds you wonderful food, provides entertainment and transportation while you're there---and generally does whatever it can in order to make it simple for you to focus on your work. (And yes, they provide and honorarium, too.) Readers come from all over the world and from all walks of education: public ones like me, nuns from Catholic schools, college professors, teachers from overseas, some from private schools. There will be about 400 of us who will do this job sitting in an agricultural exhibition hall on the Nebraska State Fairgrounds.

At the outset, things appear grueling. A Reader is assigned to score only one question. This means that you may read a couple of thousand books containing responses to the same prompt. You Read for eight hours every day that you are there. A system of checks and balances is built in: you sit at a table with 7 others, one of whom is the Table Leader. The TL spot checks essays you have read to be sure that you are scoring consistently. There is even a Question Leader who samples all of the tables. Huge amounts of statistics are kept: how many books you read, what your average score is, what your standard deviation from the overall norm is, and so on. All of these things are designed to make this process as fair to a student as possible. After all, it shouldn't matter which Reader scores their question, whether it's the first or last day of the Read, or what time of the day it is. It also doesn't matter how much we like the scoring guide or if it is how we would do things in our classrooms. It only matters that we score things as consistently as possible. It's not "hard" work. It is a "brain drain." By the fourth day, it is pretty darned difficult to have any kind of motivation about going back and Reading again.

Why do any of us do this job? For me, it's about being a good teacher for my kids. If I'm not invested in the process---how can I share it with them? It's a way for me to learn how The Exam is scored and then demystify the process for students. It also reassures my kiddos that real people are indeed reading their work and doing the best that they can to be fair.

I am excited about my travel plans tomorrow...about the opportunity to connect with people I haven't seen for a year...to learn some new things and participate in different adventures. My laptop is traveling with me (as is my digital camera), so updates will be forthcoming.

And now, back to packing...

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