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Fort Collins Blogging


DJW and I are currently in Fort Collins, Colorado reading AP exams. What does this entail, you may ask?

AP exams are developed by the College Board and given to thousands of high school seniors at the end of each school year. Successful completion of the exams often means college credit, although the requirements differ by institution. Like any tests, AP exams must be graded. In June, close to 600 high school and college teachers converge on Fort Collins to grade the many thousands of US Government and Comparative Government exams that come in. The cadre is divided roughly evenly between high school and college teachers in order to give a diverse set of viewpoints on the exams, to give each group a stake in the success of the project, and to ensure both sides that the exams will be evaluated fairly and competently.

We grade. And we grade. And we grade. For seven straight days, from 8am to 5pm, we grade. Usually the first day is spent on training, because while we are each supposed to bring a level of expertise to our field, we are absolutely not allowed to grade according to our personal knowledge and tendencies. Rather, there is the rubric. The rubric specifies that certain points are to be given to specific responses.

The rubric is law.
Do not question the rubric.
Do not challenge the rubric.
Do not defame the rubric.
Do not disparage the rubric.
Do not poke the rubric.
Do not taunt the rubric.

The rubric is our holy writ, and is developed before the graders arrive. The above may sound draconian, but it is absolutely necessary to the success of the project. We are grading questions about politics, and knowledgeable people disagree about the effect of the third parties in American politics or the impact of the Algerian War on French domestic politics, for example. Without a defined set of acceptable answers, chaos would ensue, and the Republic would be endangered. Thus, the rubric.

So, we grade. And they feed us. We eat. And we grade. And we eat. We eat breakfast, then grade for two hours. Then they provide us with a tasty snack. We grade for two hourse, then go to lunch. We grade for two hours, then receive another tasty snack. We grade for two hours, then go to dinner. After that, many of us drink beer. It is a simple life.

The best exams, the ones that lighten our day, are those of the students who just don’t care. Some students get to take the exams for free. Many of these haven’t the faintest about the topic at hand. A subset of these spend their 100 minute period writing about their lives. Writing for people you’ll never meet seems to be liberating. I’ve read bitter tirades directed against the entire male gender. I’ve read multiple loss-of-virginity accounts. I’ve read about drug use, crushes, future plans, baseball, football, cats, parents and whatever else you can imagine seventeen year olds caring about. All of these get zero points, but I always read them with great care.

We get paid a decent salary, and as I mentioned the work isn’t terribly difficult. Fort Collins is a nice place to visit, and Colorado State has a good campus. There is a fair amount of free time, and I’ve been able to finish some of my own academic work. Tomorrow, we get to go to Rocky Mountain National Park for a few hours. With luck, I’ll be able to post some photos.

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