Why Test-Scoring Tedium Is Worth It

Article excerpt

It was a humid summer morning as we poured into the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Fla. Although practically wilting, most of us carried sweaters, knowing we'd freeze once inside. No doubt, that cold helped keep some 600 high school and college instructors awake as we scored exams in Advanced Placement English Literature, taken by more than 150,000 students in the United States and Canada.

AP courses allow students not only to learn a particular subject in depth, but also to hone skills in analytical thinking and writing. We teachers who score the exams reap our own benefits. Each year we renew our faith in the wit, creativity, and depth of insight of America's youths. And we return to our classrooms as better teachers.

Each of us was assigned to score one of three required essays. Scores ran from 0, when a student wrote nothing, to 9, often the mark of a gifted student.

I made my way to Question I, the poetry analysis, located in a large partitioned area with 25 tables - dotted with little dishes of candy - of eight teachers each. We began the morning with one of us reading the poem aloud, so we could envision its context. A teacher stood at the microphone, slowly releasing each line like a winding country road. We applauded as she finished, and turned to our sample essays.

Those samples were essays already scored by the table leaders. We evaluated them according to a rubric of guidelines. The leaders then checked to see if our scores matched theirs.

Our real challenges, of course, were the "live papers," or student essays. Table leaders would randomly select batches from each of us to give a second reading, checking our accuracy in scoring. Most readers scored about 150 essays a day. By the end of Day 2, we had mastered the rhythm of the grading and the nuances of the poem.

On the other side of the partition, our colleagues graded Question II, which asked students to analyze a prose passage, like an excerpt from a biography of Florence Nightingale. …

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