Hey AP History Graders, This Year Share the Best of the Best

It’s that time of the year when historians and history teachers from across the country gather to grade the A.P. History exams. Over the past few years the grading process has become something of a public event as participants share the best of the worst responses to Free Response and DBQ questions. I know that this sharing is done by goodhearted people who ultimately care about education and the future of our discipline, but I have to admit that it leaves me feeling just a little depressed.

We already live in a society that places little value in education. Why feed it. It adds ammunition for those looking for reasons to cut history programs even further and feeds the belief that students know less about the past than previous generations. Most importantly, it disrespects the vast majority of history teachers who bust their asses day in and day out, in many cases for little pay and support from their communities.

This year I understand that College Board has asked its graders to pledge not to share anything about the process for the duration of the week. Why they decided to do this is unclear.

For those who can’t resist I ask that this year you share the best of the best on the AP History Exams. I ask this out of respect for my fellow history teachers across the country who are closing in on a much deserved summer break.

20 comments… add one
  • adam Badeau Jun 1, 2014 @ 12:48

    “We already live in a society that places little value in education.”

    Consequently, some students become history teachers who don’t know how to write economically, as illustrated below:

    “It’s that time of the year when historians and history teachers from across the country gather to grade the A.P. History exams. Over the past few years the grading process has become something of a public event as participants share the best of the worst responses to Free Response and DBQ questions.” (52 words)

    *Once again US history teachers are grading annual A.P. exams. A few years ago some began publicly posting the best and worst student essays answers.* (25 words)

    1. “historians and history teachers” is redundant
    2. across the country = US
    3. gather to grade ==> grade
    4. grading process ==> “process” is redundant
    5. A.P. History exams ==> “History” is redundant
    6. something of a public event as participants share ==> (1) “participants” = teachers; (2) something of a public event ==> publicly posting
    7. Free Response and DBQ questions ==> (1) The expression should be simply “essay questions”, since there is no reason to distinguish between the two in this context; (2) DBQ is jargon, which is the true sign of a lazy writer.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 1, 2014 @ 12:55

      Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

      • Don Shaffer Jun 1, 2014 @ 13:54

        First day of the reading is over. I think is time to put this conversation to bed. While I refuse to concede on the ethical question, if there is something I’ve learned from this exchange, I guess it is AP grading is like making sausage. While the end result is surprising good (meaning on the whole students get graded fairly and well) the process isn’t always pretty, and from the responses I’ve gotten here easily misunderstood. So like sausage making, I guess ETS has a point to want to keep it behind closed doors. If anyone really wants to understand the culture of the sausage making, join us sometime.

        • Kevin Levin Jun 1, 2014 @ 13:59

          I think is time to put this conversation to bed.

          This conversation is open to anyone who wishes to contribute.

          If anyone really wants to understand the culture of the sausage making, join us sometime.

          I appreciate you taking the time to grade the exams and I have no doubt that students are graded fairly. I know plenty of top-notch teachers and historians who take part in grading. I’ve already shared my concerns about the AP History curriculum so I am unlikely to ever take part in grading. My position remains the same: while I have little problem with the sharing of student responses among graders I believe it is wrong to share on social media for the reasons that I and others have already stated.

          Have a great week in Louisville.

  • Matt McKeon Jun 1, 2014 @ 3:30

    My kid just finished sweating out her AP exams. The thought that her efforts are har har har food for the test readers is infuriating. The thought that readers would forget themselves enough to post some of the kids’ answers online for a giggle and a little headshaking “kids are dumb today” is infuriating.

    Just to give a parent’s point of view.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 1, 2014 @ 3:37

      Thanks for adding your voice to this discussion. ETS made the right decision to institute a blackout during the grading process regardless of its intent. Like I said there is enough ammunition for those looking to criticize history education. Let’s not unnecessarily add to it.

  • Don Shaffer May 31, 2014 @ 9:14

    Hi Kevin. Thanks for your perspective on AP. I find a lot of validity in it, especially in the era of high stakes standardized testing. To be honest, I come to the reading every year not because I am a greater supporter of AP, but to earn extra money.

    Also, someone asked about whether the students retain a copyright to their exam. An interesting question. I’d say sharing depersonalized (i.e., we don’t know who the student is and so couldn’t share their identity even if we wanted to) humorous snippets from a student’s exam is fair use even if the student retained a copyright. Probably the more valid concern is privacy/confidentiality. Since the student’s identity is protected by ETS, the privacy would still be protected, although confidentiality of the exam is breeched although not in a harmful way, unless in the highly unlikely scenario that the student somehow saw the post, recognized the comment as their own, and was bothered by that fact.

    Again, I think this issue is one mostly of perception and appearances. And ETS has erred on the side of caution here, which is understandable. I don’t agree with their decision, but since I signed my reader’s agreement, I will refrain from sharing funny student snippets.

    • Kevin Levin May 31, 2014 @ 13:44

      Again, I think this issue is one mostly of perception and appearances.

      I think it’s important that once you post these things online you no longer control intent.

  • Alec Rogers May 31, 2014 @ 3:58

    I’m curious – does one waive the copyrights in the answers provided?

    I took my history APs 1000 years ago but it never occurred to me that anyone could or should publish my answers, for praise or ridicule, without my permission.

    • Kevin Levin May 31, 2014 @ 4:04

      Good question, but I have no idea.

  • Don Shaffer May 31, 2014 @ 3:38

    Hi Kevin. Not trying to be a pest, but I’d really appreciate it if either comment here or make a blog post about your reservations concerning Advanced Placement. I am not trying to put you on the spot. I am genuinely interested in hearing your thoughts on this issue. Feel free to contact me privately if this is something you would rather not post publicly.

    • Kevin Levin May 31, 2014 @ 4:01

      Hi Don,

      My concerns with the AP curriculum come down to control over curriculum and the emphasis on a test at the end of the year that for many students comes to define how they assess their experience in the course.

      1. While the AP curriculum does not dictate what I do specifically in any given class it does force teachers to maintain a certain pace to ensure that a certain amount of coverage is achieved by the end of the year. My pedagogical goals are best achieved when I have time to focus students on specific moments in American history. I want them to see complexity in the past and this is best achieved when we have time to dig down into sources without having to worry about whether I cover everything that they need to know about Franklin Pierce. So, the pace of the course is a big concern of mine.

      2. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to students who when questioned about their AP experience immediately share their test score. A student may have have achieved a respectable end-of-the-year grade in my class that reflects significant progress, but less than satisfactory test score has the potential to overshadow all of it. I think this sends the wrong message. For the most part my students did well, but I never placed much of any value one way or the other on the test scores. It’s depressing to think that I have no hand in creating or grading the assessment that in the end means the most to most of my students. How depressing. For me it’s about what occurred during the year.

      Hope that helps.

      After a few years of teaching the AP class I felt at times like I was on automatic pilot. It stifled my creativity as a teacher and made me less willing to take chances in the classroom.

      • Jimmy Dick May 31, 2014 @ 7:17

        I think the AP system is indicative of the teach to the test mindset so many educators have. I reject that system. Testing is merely assessment. It does not reflect the true amount of learning a student goes through in a course. It relies heavily on the banking model of teaching as Paulo Freire pointed out decades ago.

        When I teach I use critical pedagogy, transformative learning theory, and develop critical thinking skills to engage learners. I seek to empower my students by shifting more of the learning responsibility to them via sources and activities. I pose problems. The only way we will create problem solvers instead of problem creators is to encourage learners to understand problems so that they can solve them.

        • Kevin Levin May 31, 2014 @ 7:26

          We obviously have a lot in common in terms of pedagogy.

  • Brendan Bossard May 30, 2014 @ 9:12

    I see your point, Kevin. Like the husband in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birth-Mark,” if we obsess too much about the ugly, we risk losing the beautiful.

  • Don Shaffer May 30, 2014 @ 7:36

    Hi Kevin. Interesting to hear you aren’t a supporter of AP. I’d be curious to hear more why. Certainly, I am not entirely comfortable in all respects with it. Back when I was in high school, AP History at my school was limited to the very best History students in the school. I got the impression it was pretty much the same elsewhere. When I became a reader decades later, it was apparent who took the exam had changed. While some districts still limited themselves to their best students, others opened AP to anyone who wanted to take it and some even had all their students taking the exam, even paying the exam fee out of district funds. Apparently, administrators find it useful in plugging the quality of instruction in their school/district that all students are taking AP. The results from my perspective are dismal–lots of low scored exams, which can be discouraging to score. ETS has encouraged more students to take AP exams since they make more money. While ETS is a non-profit, they sometimes act too much like a for-profit business. Indeed, I’ve heard it said that ETS is most profitable, non-profit out there. I’m not sure whether is it true, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there was some degree of truth to this jest. In any case, Kevin, I’d be very interested in hearing your perspective on AP.

  • Don Shaffer May 30, 2014 @ 7:04

    Also, we don’t share the “best of the worst” as you put it. We’ve share unintentionally and sometimes intentionally funny comments by the students.

    • Kevin Levin May 30, 2014 @ 7:06


      I’ve seen it all. Like I said, I know that it is not intentional, but I believe it has an overall negative impact on how the public views education and history education specifically.

  • Don Shaffer May 30, 2014 @ 7:01

    Hi Kevin. The blackout means we cannot share anything–good, bad, or whatever. BTW, as a longtime AP History teacher, I would encourage you to join us sometime at the reading. Then you will probably understand better why sharing unintentional student humor is a favorite pastime there.


    • Kevin Levin May 30, 2014 @ 7:03

      While I’ve taught the AP class for a number of reasons I am not a big supporter so it is very unlikely that I will ever take part.

      I am sure that sharing is a way to blow off steam given the long hours that you guys work, but I just wish that sharing didn’t extend beyond the room. Thanks and have a good time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *