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How the Studio Art Portfolio is Graded

by Lauren Sleat
Maryland Institute College of Art
Baltimore, Maryland

The job of the AP® Exam Reader for the portfolios in Studio Art—that is, the task of scoring the student artwork—is a difficult one. As Readers, we want to make sure we give all students every possible chance to get the grade they deserve; we want to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Readers are trained to look for students who are trying to enhance their intellectual engagement, understanding of visual language, and application of vocabulary. Student work should demonstrate originality, evidence of thought and personal vision. We also look for students who are more aware of the principles and elements of design in their work; these students tend to produce work that is not only conceptually but also technically superior.

We are not saying that student work needs to "walk on water," but we are looking for the following traits: emergence of technical competence, manipulation of original ideas, work that has purpose and direction, decisions executed with authority and confidence, evidence of experimentation and risk taking, a range of stylistic as well as technical concerns evident in the work, purposeful composition, and a sense of real effort. If the student is using photographic resources, we as Readers should be able to discern the student's individual "voice," that is, we should get a strong sense that the student is transforming the images to speak to the viewer from his or her artistic mindset. Exact replicas of published photographs are not useful in enabling the Readers to see into the student's creative realm. This is only a small sample of the types of things Readers are looking for; however, the above criteria are very good guidelines.

Three to seven Readers look at each portfolio to help ensure that the student's achievements and the positive qualities of the artwork are recognized. For the Breadth and Concentration sections, two Readers look at each portfolio; for the Quality section there are three Readers for each portfolio. Each of the three sections has equal weight in averaging the final score.

That said, there are inevitably times when not all Readers agree. In this situation, the Readers must take the portfolios to the Table Leaders for their judgment. Table Leaders are responsible for training Readers on how to use the rubric to evaluate the portfolios. When the scores between Readers vary by more than 3 points for a given section of a portfolio, they are considered discrepant. For instance, if one Reader gives the student a 1 and another Reader gives the student a 5, this is a discrepancy. Two Table Leaders will then review the work and decide a final score.

After each portfolio is scored by the Readers, a table of assistants compile the scores. A record is kept of which Reader scored which portfolio to track how each Reader is evaluating and ensure that their scores are consistent. When there is a discrepancy between scores, the assistants take the portfolio in question over to the two or three Table Leaders for their opinion. This is the point at which the rubric is carefully considered; the discrepancy may be a result of Readers misinterpreting or not following the rubric. The Table Leaders score the portfolio again arriving at a score that is not discrepant through consensus. The Studio Art Chief Reader (who is in charge of the entire Studio Art Reading) does not like there to be more than a 1-point difference between the Table Leaders' scores. There are times when the Chief Reader is called in to make a final decision on a portfolio if the Table Leaders cannot reach agreement. As you can see, the process of scoring portfolios and solving discrepancies is taken extremely seriously.

The rubric is based on a 1-to-6 scale, 1 being the lowest and 6 being the highest possible score. The 1-to-6 score is the raw score for the Reading, and after the Reading the statisticians work the raw score into the 1-to-5 grades sent to students and schools.

As teachers of AP Studio Art, our job is to help students excel. As AP Exam Readers, our job is to reinforce the push toward excellence by judging student work by the highest possible standard, with careful, fair, and consistent consideration.

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