||Destination: Lincoln, Nebraska
"And what is the purpose of your journey today, business or pleasure?"
"Oh, what are you doing in Lincoln?"
"I'll be grading forty-one thousand statistics exams."
A pause and a sideways glance before the reply, "Oh... really? Well, did you volunteer for this?"
I was finally on my way to the Reading for the AP Statistics Exam. I had been excited about this since first receiving my acceptance as a reader for the 2001 exam in the fall. Recently, though, I had begun, much as the woman who checked me in at London Gatwick had, to question what I was actually doing. Forty-one thousand exams: a staggering number of papers to grade, even when you include over two hundred readers. Having just finished grading my own final exams and writing student reports, I wondered if this journey wasn't a bit of insanity on my part. This feeling had not been helped in the week prior to leaving by the comments of my colleagues, friends, and relatives whose general feelings were all the same: "Kevin has finally gone off the deep end." Thus it was with mixed feelings, excitement coupled with a dread of seven straight days of grading from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., that I arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska.
I needn't have worried. After checking in and having a quick rest, I went to the initial meeting for new readers. It was here that I began to realize the true nature of the reading: collegiality, friendship, and a true desire to realize our hopes of statistical education, and hopefully understanding, for our students. These feelings stayed with me over the next few days as we delved into the actual grading of the papers. As we graded, we shared our own experiences, successes, and failures from the past year of teaching statistics. We discussed what we truly hoped students would do when trying to solve the problem we were grading, and we shared our joy when we actually came across solutions that fit our very high expectations.
The process of the Reading itself seemed simple enough, but often could be very complex. The first two days consisted of training on a question in the morning and then grading in our rooms in the afternoon. The rest of the time during the week consisted of finishing off these two problems and then working on another problem that had been assigned to the room in which you worked.
During training the readers in charge of the question would explain the rubric for grading the question, and then we, as a group, would grade a booklet of about 20 student solutions. While this sounds like a relatively straightforward process, the task of getting over 200 teachers to all agree, and understand, a rubric for a question is not that simple. The discussions during these training periods were insightful, invigorating, and occasionally frustrating, but we all eventually understood what we were to do.
The grading itself occurred in about 15 rooms of 16 readers and two table leaders. We were seated with a partner, typically so that each pair had one high school teacher and one university professor, and also one "acorn" (the term for a rookie) and one experienced reader. Every reader was given a packet of 20 solutions to work on, and the table leaders would check our work when we finished each packet. Support amongst the readers in the room for difficult student solutions was excellent. First one could utilize their partner, then if still confused one could go to the head readers for advice. Only in rare cases would a paper then have to be passed on to the question leader.
I had heard descriptions of this process before attending the Reading but never really believed that such a system could work very efficiently. It is really a testament to the hard work of the head reader and the table leaders in creating tight rubrics and in keeping us all on task, while not treating us like laborers in a sweatshop, that these exams are graded in the professional, methodical, and fair manner that they are.
The Fun Begins at Five
After spending the day discussing and grading, we did not go our separate ways for the evening as we might after a typical day of work. Instead we chose to eat together, exercise together, and most importantly, socialize together until we all went to sleep. Through bridge, hearts, spoons, pig dice, guitars and songs, baseball games, and the NBA finals, we all become closer as friends rather than just as colleagues. During these evening sessions we all became a group, as people with vastly different backgrounds and situations met, talked, played, and enjoyed themselves.
As a first-time AP reader I was able to see the true end product of everything we had tried to accomplish in statistical education for high school students over the past year. We not only graded the students' exams, we discussed the problems themselves, how we wished our students would answer the problems, and the actual way that students will solve the problems. I find myself trying to incorporate all that I have taken away from the Reading into how I teach my course this year. I have learned the topics that the students have the most difficulty with, the most common mistakes they make, and through discussions with my peers, the best methods to overcome these difficulties.
The greatest gain that readers will take away from an AP Reading, other than the numerous friendships and contacts within their professional community, is an increase in their own knowledge and skills within their chosen fields. It is this gain that gives the largest benefit to the teacher, their school and ultimately their students.