“….the FRQ’s in APUSH are disconcerting. We worked on writing a whole lot and it seems like the act of building legitimate evidence into a workable essay is proving to be quite a problem. It seems like more time needs to go not necessarily into how to write the essay as much as how to integrate the APUSH information into a logical argument, and then get that down on paper.”
That was from last year’s post about my frustrations on the AP U.S. History writing portion of the exam. Instead of doing more writing I decided to focus a whole lot on the introductory paragraph and then do a whole lot of exercises on critical thinking and analysis. Then as the test time neared we started in on the formalized writing portion, knowing that the necessity to attach the evidence to the thesis (and making it relevant) was already in place. It seems to have worked. My APUSH pass rate went from just under 50% last year to 65% this year, about 13% above the national average. However, if you looked at just the writing portion of the exam, my kids killed it. 85% of my students passed the DBQ. On the dreaded American Foreign Policy 1789-1823 question, where 45% of students scored a 0 or 1, my six students not only passed the question but scored very high. Where was the weak spot? Content, namely Colonial stuff that we hardly had time to address during the beginning of the year. Going to have to change review techniques.
AP Comparative Government rose from 60% to 88% pass rate, 35% above the national average. My students ran the table on the FRQ’s, taking the three hardest questions behind the woodshed and beating them like a drum. Like APUSH, I did more of a concentration on critical thinking this year and I think it showed in the writing. AP Comparative FRQ’s are usually a combination of analysis and simple identification. Here’s one of the lowest scoring questions:
“Identify the two parties that formed the coalition government in Great Britain following the 2010 parliamentary elections. Explain one reason why they formed a coalition. Describe a domestic policy issue that has threatened the coalition.”
Simple identification and critical analysis. Now, on this question there are three possible points. In my opinion students should nail the identification piece in their sleep (Labor and Liberal Democrats). A bit harder but still an almost gimme is the coalition answer (to control parliament). The policy issue is more complex because of the word “describe”, which means you really need to prove that you understand the issue. My students seemed to do just fine (disagreements over the European Union the most common answer). I actually can’t believe that this questions scores were so low because if my students don’t do well on the question, something is wrong.
One of the other things I mentioned last year was the lack of English Language Learners passing the test. This year many of my ELL students did very well, although some of my Seniors that perform very well in class did not test well, barely passing. It’s an improvement but a marginal one. When students are doing really well in the class it should transfer to the test. But it’s still not quite there.
This year will be a little different as I will go back to two full classes of AP Comparative and a class of AP U.S. History that current has over 40 students. That will probably go down when the year starts as students get panicky about the rigor of the class. Tough but good. While I really don’t have the class focus on the test, it’s still nice to see students do so well on it.