A year ago, Oakdale High School teacher Pete Simoncini submitted a lengthy application to read and evaluate Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. history essays from the national AP U.S. history test.
He was selected and read the tests last summer and recently, Simoncini was asked by the College Board to return and judge AP U.S. History tests for a second year in Louisville, Ky. from May 31 to June 8.
“I wanted to judge so I could better understand the AP U.S. history test evaluation process to help my students become more effective writers for both future AP tests, and, more importantly, for their time in college,” Simoncini said.
“Because of the experience, I was really energized to teach AP U.S. history this year and I started the year teaching essay writing and how to effectively write essays for the test – so, de facto, also for college,” he added. “I am now confident in how I grade essays my students write during the year and can assign them scores very close to what they would receive from the team in Louisville. The bottom line: the experience made me a better teacher.”
This year, Simoncini reported that he’ll join about 1,250 other high school AP history teachers and college history professors to read more than one million essays. All the judges are in one room at the Louisville Convention Center, each reading the students’ response to one of five essay prompts each day. The judges sit in sections together in the room, scoring the same question.
Simoncini said it was a bit tedious but that he really enjoyed the interaction with people from all over the country.
“You must either be a college professor in the topic you are evaluating or have taught a high school AP course for at least five years in the topic you are evaluating to qualify (as a judge),” Simoncini reported. “This is my 10th year teaching AP U.S. history at OHS. So you really have to have a solid expertise in general U. S. history, in my case, to qualify to evaluate – you have to know your history.”
At OHS, Simoncini teaches one period of AP U.S. history; one period of AP U.S. government and politics; two periods of AP psychology; one period of non-AP psychology; and he also teaches Political Science 10 – U.S. Constitutional Government for Columbia College at the Oakdale campus.
The national AP test judging days are well-ordered and each is structured the same way, Simoncini said. Every day the judging starts promptly at 8 a.m., then there is a one-minute stretch break for all 1,250 judges at 9 a.m. Next, a 15-minute snack break at either 10 a.m. or 10:15 a.m., another stretch break at 11 a.m., then lunch at noon or 12:30 p.m. The schedule is similar in the afternoon up until five o’clock.
“Each day you must sit in the same seat at the same table as the day before,” Simoncini shared. “Each table has eight readers with a table leader who has been a reader for several previous years. Each folder has 25 essays for you to read at a time… So to say the process is quite regimented is an understatement.”
Reading hundreds of essays himself each day, Simoncini said that at times it would get monotonous and he would go off into the “ozone,” so he would take a personal break and also exercised every night to get the blood flowing again. However, it was hardly humdrum as there were some unexpected moments of comic relief as well.
“One thing that makes it fun is sharing funny or inane things students write – students are identified by number only,” he recalled. “We had some great ones. For example, one essay on the civil rights movement I read said that former University of Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp was a champion of civil rights – in reality he was famous for his all-white teams. Other readers copy inane statements on Post-it notes and place them on the wall for others to read. So reading those and getting a laugh on occasion from reading inane student remarks kept me going.”
The scores that are given by the judges on the essays help determine whether or not students pass the AP test. Students who pass the AP tests are eligible to get college credit and waive certain college academic requirements for graduation, Simoncini said. He noted that several OHS graduates started college as second semester freshmen or even with sophomore status because they passed a number of AP tests.
Every afternoon, after the judging was finished, Simoncini said that the table leader shared with each judge how well their evaluation correlated with the multiple-choice scores of the students they evaluated. He said that it is the correlation that determines whether or not judges are asked back for another year.
“It was really a fantastic experience,” he said.
Students take the AP tests in early May through the College Board, a subsidiary of the Educational Testing Service. Simoncini said that the College Board is projecting about 415,000 students will take the AP U.S. history test in 2012, each required to write three essays, totaling more than one million essays.