With Worcester Preparatory School faculty averaging 19 years of teaching experience and advanced degrees, WPS teachers are known for their dedication to academic excellence and guiding students to achieve their best. One of the ways they exemplify that commitment is by serving as an Advanced Placement (AP) Reader who evaluates and scores AP students’ free responses on AP exams.
Recently, WPS science teacher Elliot Mitchell of Westover, Md., and WPS AP English teacher Liz Nally of Ocean View were recognized by the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program (AP) and Educational Testing Service (ETS) for their significant contributions during the 2020 AP Reading.
Despite COVID-19 last June, Mitchell was one of 900 high school AP teachers and college faculty who joined together to score 233,444 AP Biology exams. Nally was one of 2,382 high school AP teachers and college faculty who scored 535,478 AP English Language and Composition exams.
“The circumstances in which this work was completed were unprecedented, and Elliot Mitchell and Liz Nally helped ensure AP students could pursue college credit and placement opportunities, even in the midst of school closures and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The careful evaluation of students’ work by WPS faculty members and other highly qualified professionals is one of the most important aspects of the AP Program,” stated College Board Senior Vice President of AP & Instruction Trevor Packer.
As AP teachers, Mitchell and Nally, said that participating as an AP Reader is an incredible experience both professionally and personally.
“Being an AP Reader for the first time was an invaluable experience and I would do it again if invited back. By scoring, I definitely gained a better understanding of the AP Exam which allowed me to assess my own teaching methods and share that knowledge with my students back in the classroom,” added Nally.
With 36 years of teaching and 15 years of experience as an AP Reader, Mitchell answered some questions to give an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at who and what goes into scoring AP exams:
Q. When did you become an AP Reader and do you participate every year?
A. I have read on and off for 15 years. Depending on my school commitments, I occasionally take a year off. I have probably read eight times during that span.
Q. Is it extremely competitive to be selected?
A. The College Board selects 50% of its readers from college professors and 50 percent from high school teachers. They are very thorough about achieving statistically perfect diversity of location, gender and include several international Readers as well. Only teachers who have taught the subject for five years are eligible. Once selected, one is invited based on previous performance including reading (scoring) accuracy, collegiality (plays well with others), and diversity of the pool.
Q. What inspired you to apply to become an AP reader?
A. Originally, it just seemed like a proficiency goal for me. There are three huge benefits to scoring exams. I was lucky to have some terrific mentors early on, including leaders in the organization and the textbook author of the most-used AP Biology text.
The work brings me very close to the curriculum, including what the current trends are in student ability and insight into recent topics and skills of the course. Reading gives me knowledge of test-taking tips for students on how to structure writing and how to properly read the prompts presented. The professional network is amazing, and the participating teachers are top-notch educators and terrific resources.
Q. Do you receive a stack of AP exams to score or do you score in groups?
A. We work at tables of eight or 10. A group of runners ensure that each of us has a stack of 10 exams and a backup stack of 10 more at all times. To ensure accuracy, all readers are trained until every reader can score consistently and reliably. One student’s score can’t depend on which reader happened to score the question, so that training involves periodic review (duplicate scoring) of my work by a table leader to ensure we are all consistent with the interpretation of the rubric.
Q. What is the average number of tests you score annually?
A. It’s hard to say — some questions are worth 4 points and score quickly, others are worth 10 points and take much longer. In either case, the number of exams I touch is probably about 2-3 thousand.
Q. How much time does it take to score a test?
A. Before I answer that, remember that accuracy is the most important part of scoring. We read every word and readily confer with a colleague if there are any questions about a student’s meaning. Our motto is, “Every book is a student.” Readers really care about getting it right. The answer is 20 to 30 seconds for a solid thorough essay. Practice makes perfect.
Q. Where would you usually meet, prior to COVID-19?
A. The College Board picks various locations for different subjects. Suitable sites are those that are central and can handle the capacity of work, housing and feeding the entire group. Every AP exam for a particular subject has to come to that one location. The most recent eight-day event was held at a convention center in Kansas City, Mo. Previously, I have worked at Clemson University, the University of Maryland and the University of Nebraska.
Q. Did you change the way you teach after participating as an AP Reader and how has it impacted you as a result?
A. To really understand the AP Biology course is to find the balance between content and skills that are meant to be included. Years ago, like many sciences, AP Biology was more like an encyclopedia of knowledge. It has made a wonderful shift towards skills — for example, the application of skills to actual data presented.