Louis Armstrong was the First Man to Walk on the Moon . . . or Why You Should Do the AP Grading

Karen Johnson

Have you ever wondered who graded the essay portion of that AP history test you took way back in high school?
  While it may seem like the “invisible hand” of a distant computer or some “animal spirit” throwing nuts at a wall might have determined your score, this is one assessment that is graded the old-fashioned way: with real, flesh and blood people!  A vast group of high school teachers, graduate students, and college professors of history recently converged on Louisville, KY where I and 1200 of my closest friends worked for seven days to grade 1.3 million essays, written by 437,000 high school students. And just in case you’re wondering, that is just shy of 1,100 essays per grader!  Why, you might ask, would anyone in their right mind desire to do that, much less over their summer break?  I’ll tell you . . . and in the process, encourage you to apply to be a reader next year. 

To be honest, one of the strongest motivators for coming back for my second year of grading is  the money, plain and simple.  If you’re a graduate student, I know I’m speaking your language.  One week of grading paid me about the same as one month of my graduate student stipend.  Grading can help make the lean summer months much fatter.  Like an all-expenses paid working vacation, the College Board throws in your transportation, room and board.  Plus, Louisville is a great place to explore with a small stipend for two evenings eating out.

But beyond the money, the greatest benefit to me has been the educational value that I have taken away from the experience.  The AP grading offers a chance to collaborate with high school teachers who are often at the top of their game, a rare opportunity for those of us who teach at the college level.  I’ve come away with numerous  ideas and strategies for incorporating best practices into my classroom.  Next, the AP grading teaches you to use a rubric, and to use it well.  I have found that this makes my own grading, and crafting of assignments, much easier.  The grading also gives readers a chance to hear great historians speak.  This year Carol Sue Humphrey and Andrew Bacevich spoke to the readers.  Last year we heard from Gordon Wood.  In addition, going to the grading will give you a chance to see how the College Board rolls out its new test.  In the 2014-2015 school year, they are switching from a coverage model of testing U.S. history that requires students to know a little bit about everything to a more skills-based model that requires students to practice historical thinking.  This shift matches much of the discussion going on in history education circles, and the AP grading is a place where conversations about this trend abound. 

Finally, it’s actually fun.  When you go year after year, you make friends from across the country.  You can laugh at the AP cartoonist’s cartoons (inspired by lines from students’ essays, like “Louis Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon,” or “Upton Sinclair wrote ‘Welcome to the Jungle.’”).  

If you’re interested, go here for instructions on how to apply to be a reader.  If you’re at the college level, you must have taught at least one class comparable to the AP class in the past three years.  And let me know if you’re in Louisville next year!


Unknown said…
So interesting to read these lines, "To be honest, one of the strongest motivators for coming back for my second year of grading is the money, plain and simple. If you’re a graduate student, I know I’m speaking your language. "
cbcahpell said…
This was my first year as an AP "reader." I was expecting a week of drudgery made doable only by the paycheck at the end. Instead, I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed myself. True, the 1195 essays I graded were a mixed bag. However, I enjoyed the time at the table because of the camaraderie, the shared love of history that we all had, and games of DBQ bingo that kept us going during that final 5-5:30 time slot. It's something I'm planning on going back to and will be encouraging colleagues to join me.
Randall said…
Love the malapropisms. I had a student in an undergrad western civ course ages ago write that "Hannibal funded his excursion into Italy with the profitable icon mines of Spain." I want to find those icon mines.
Karen Johnson said…
Glad to hear others have enjoyed the reading! And I too love reading some of the funny things students write.
delphiandreams said…
I would love to participate but although you mentioned graduate students in your blog entry the website only says college professor... :(

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