Friday, July 01, 2011

The Confessions of an AP Comparative Government Reader. Part 2.

Let me make two things perfectly clear about the AP test reading.  First, they want high school students to succeed.  That much is very obvious.  Two, they want the course to be rigorous.  That is also very obvious.  How well that is balanced is the subject of my post today, and it could be the post that doesn’t allow me back to grade.  But it needs to be discussed because, and I mentioned this on Twitter a few times, there is a serious disconnect between high school and the college teachers that create the test.

The reading opened my eyes to how the process of creating an Advanced Placement test works, and prevailing attitude among many readers was that high school teachers have little say about it.  On the day that the test creators fielded questions, the lone high school teacher made a couple of supporting comments, but the bulk of the commentary was from a group of college professors.  Before and after this session, much of the attitude revolved around “oh, it’s the usual ‘for show’ thing that really won’t change anything”.  That’s unfortunate because if half of the best students are failing nearly every subject in the Advanced Placement curriculum, is that a sign of rigor or is it a sign of unreasonable expectations?  This year the Microeconomics AP had a Free Response Question that over half the students received a zero on; that’s no points.  Sorry to burst the ego of college professors, but that’s not a student problem, that’s a test problem. 

AP Comparative Government is supposed to represent an Introductory Course in Comparative Politics at a four-year institution.  Fair enough.  But here are the inconsistencies I found with that statement:

-First of all, the test creators remarked that they take tests themselves and they seemed to find it amusing that even they struggled on some parts of the exam.  If the test is designed for a first-year undergrad to take, yet a PhD professor struggles with any part of it, isn’t that a problem? 

-While it would be nice that all the kids find interest in subject that they are taking, the test creators seem to assume that we are dealing with individuals that are passionate about, in this case, Comparative Politics.  It seemed taken for granted that we are talking about high school students here, and not people that plan to achieve overall mastery in these subjects.  And the College Board sends a contradictory message about that.  Students are supposed to have equal access to Advanced Placement classes, regardless of status within the institution.  That was preached during a meeting I went to.  However the subject matter is assuming that student is going to master Calculus, or Biology, or U.S. History.  And I’m not talking about the best students, I’m talking about those that just want to pass.

-I brought up that the overall rubric needed to be created at the inception of the question.  A rough idea of the rubric is created when the question is created, but much of the details are hammered out at the AP Reading.  I have a major problem with this.  When you create a question for any major exam, you need to have a very specific idea what you are trying to get the student to understand.  If you don’t, you leave it up to others to figure out your interpretation of concept.  For instance, my question was regarding economic globalization; a very broad concept.  But the minutia of the details in the answer were more left to the interpretation of the leadership over a year onward from the development of the question.  Who knows what the intent of the question creator was because it wasn’t terribly explicit.  In the end, I felt like students that understood the concept were not given the points simply because they used a wrong word.  Sure, the student understood the concept, but they used bad (not necessarily wrong) verbage.

And from the meetings I attended, this problem is not going away any time soon.  In fact, it looks to be getting worse.  Apparently colleges are questioning the rigor of Advanced Placement courses in award college credit.  It’s a completely asinine thesis that reeks of academic elitism.  But to remain in business, the College Board seems to be leaning well towards producing tests that are increasingly more challenging, which is defeating the real purpose of the tests. I love the idea and the premise of Advanced Placement, but it has some problems.

However, I do believe that the vast majority want to see students succeed.  My “leaders” really wanted to collaborate on questions and answers while having a genuine smile when good answers passed under their pencils.  It’s this attitude that needs to permeate AP’s.  Let’s push without discouraging achievement.       

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