Special Project: AP Lit Help’s “The Test”

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Could they read and could they write? That’s what they wanted to know. Of course they could do it, but how well could they do it? So they worked in silence for three hours, reading and writing. That’s all it took — three hours. A year’s worth of work, and it was done in three hours. And then, they awaited judgement.

Issac and Annie are two of the nearly 400,000 students globally that took the AP Literature and Composition exam last year. It is a rigorous exam. Typically, the best and brightest students in a school take AP exams, at least that’s the way it was when I was in school.  The multiple choice section lasts an hour. Then in the next two hours students write three essays, back to back to back. Its exhausting. Few do well on it.

How tough is it? Well only 8% scored a 5 last year. 18% scored a 4. If you do the math, and bear with me I’m an English teacher, nearly 75% failed to score a four or a five. 75% of the smart kids. That’s a tough exam. But when you want to award college credit for high school students, this isn’t the in-house soccer program, not everyone gets a trophy.

But Is it fair? Can a test, especially a high-stakes one, reveal what you know?

This is a podcast about one TEST. I want to know what those two students did to succeed? What did their teachers teach? Did they teach to the test? Did they ignore it? But once you start asking those questions, your magnifying glass picks up clues that lead down a much bigger rabbit hole. It leads you to wonder, what should a test do? Are we testing too much? How do you help a struggling reader?  Can you assess a student, a school, and entire educational initiative if you don’t test what they know and how they’ve progressed? And what about the students? What impact is all this having on them? Over the next few weeks, I’m going to talk to students, teachers, test makers, advocates and critics. I’m going to ask questions of them all to better understand where we are, what’s working and what isn’t, and the impact its having.

Welcome to THE TEST