My syllabus mirrors language seen in so many other AP Government classes around the country, and it essentially tells my students that this is a college level course, and I expect them to be able to perform on college level assessments, damn it.
But here is the riddle. What is a college-level assessment? I have done some soul searching here, thinking back to what my own experiences as well as what I have come to understand college assessments to be through unscientific research and interviews of college professors.
Factor 1: My Personal College Experience My 100 and 200 level political science, history, sociology, urban planning, and law courses back in the way back when had maybe roughly 2-4 multiple choice tests per semester. There was always at least one research project, and possibly several small position papers or essays. They were largely lecture and discussion based, consisted of reading one textbook. On occasion, I found myself before the dreaded blue book tests that were short answer and essay based. Oh vey. The short answer.
Analysis: The FRQs are reflected in the short answers and essays. I do not remember quizzes, but I do remember vocabulary incorporated into my blue book tests. Multiple choice questions are multiple choice questions, and I remember them being very challenging.
Factor 2: College Professors' Assessment of AP Government Curriculum The back story on this is that when I do not know the answer to something, I ask a college professor. I still retain contacts with one of my college professors (shout out, Snarr), and often have many, many, many questions that I will ask of college professors via email, in-person discussions, and social media. (Do you want to know something really cool? College professors absolutely love random inquiries into their fields, especially when its their expertise or about a book they wrote.) When we get to chatting about selective incorporation, or the mandate theory of elections, or expansions of suffrage, or even about the evolutionary theory of government at play in Afghanistan and Appalachia (breathe here... that was a long list) the professor often asks, "Why do you want to know this?" My answer is frequently, "Oh, it's on the AP Exam." The frequent response is "WHAT? My undergrads don't even learn about this." And it's true. I never, not even once, learned about selective incorporation in my Constitutional Law class. Or any of the above concepts from above.
Analysis: The AP Government and Politics course (which has a reputation of being an "EASY FIVE" in my school) is actually surprisingly NOT easy. In fact, it has the fourth lowest pass rate nationwide. I literally fell out of my seat when I read that.
Factor 3: Making a College Level Course Mass Produce-able It stands to reason that in order for these courses to be assessed reliably and validly, and all kinds of other statistically important concepts I have forgotten but know exist... College Board has to produce a test that can be delivered to the 303,938 students who took the exam in 2015 in early May and assessed by early July. This is a daunting task. In the time of standardized tests, a multiple choice/short answer variant in the form of a free response question format is a logical choice.
Factor 4: This is a Course Populated by High School Students I can't get away from this factor, folks. In my world, I get about 80-120 students who self-enroll. Most of my kids have taken 4 AP courses, but many are taking 4 to 5 courses at the same time. I hear again and again from my students that despite having study halls and intervention time and after school tutoring, my kids just don't have study skills, time management, and core literacy/note taking skills I would expect them to have. Crazy, I know. But it is the truth.
Analysis: Knowing that I am working towards students being able to show mastery of content through MC and short answer questions in 100-300 level courses in college, I am perfectly fine with my current assessment cycle of short, College Board-esque questions. I am also fine giving my students 1-2 FRQs per test. Given that my tests usually range around 40 MC questions and 2 FRQs, I assess twice a quarter. Any more and I am forfeiting valuable time. But these are my summative assessments.
I have a lot of work to do in the mean time, chief among them is what I call college conditioning. (Here, read formative assessments following skill building) These kids "know" that a successful student reads every night. That they complete their reading with notes, they know their learning targets, they have reviewed the questions at the end, and they should be ready to show mastery in class. BUUUUTTTT.... look above at what my students' course load is... remember I didn't ask them about extra curricular activities, internships, athletics, and employment let alone family obligations. And oh, yeah... whatever they do for socializing. Students struggle managing their time. I know I did when I was a college freshman. My university offered a freshman seminar class that taught us time management, note taking, literacy skills, and public speaking. (THANK YOU! I needed it.)
To get my kids to do these mature studenting skills, I need to condition them. That means formative assessments lurk at the beginning of every class. That doesn't mean I necessarily give quizzes to each class each day we meet, but the students know that I do unannounced reading checks. I ensure that all my sections take the same number, but that does not mean the same quiz. My first period might get quizzes A and C, my second period gets quizzes A and B, and my third period gets quizzes B and C. As long as I have the same number of scores in the grade book, I am still getting data that indicates how well my students have mastered concepts so that I can make remediation choices during our school wide protected intervention time. This also helps my students track their own mastery of concepts on my data collection tools
Looking Forward: One thing I look to change next year is having my students do at least one FRQ per unit as a formative assessment that is graded as a quiz. I got some advice from my friend Amanda who told me that managing my work load is important, as well as holding kids accountable as students and as teachers. I totally agree with her, as having students grade and comment on each others' work is a really great instructional strategy. But what it amounted to was that I was grading only one FRQ per quarter. I literally held FRQs back from my students until I had one FRQ graded for all classes. Sometimes I had to get through two units, which could be two months of time. My kids did grade each others' work immediately as we discussed each FRQ, but they did not know what I gave them. The result was a pretty light work load that helped me stay sane through rewriting my AP course, studying for my masters in Political Science, and finishing my National Board certification. Buuuttt my kids really struggled with FRQs up through April. They still had a hard time knowing how to respond to a DESCRIBE versus an EXPLAIN prompt.
My post-course analysis tells me I have to grade a bit more, and give more detail as to why kids were not getting points. I plan on reworking my FRQ prompt papers with my shorthand embedded below so I can just check off what kids did to lose points, I also intend on grading more FRQs in the beginning of the course, and then transitioning to more student graded FRQs and less actual FRQ grades by November. By then, the skill should have gelled. I hope. If I remember that it should not take me more than 40-50 seconds to grade an FRQ (if it takes longer, the kid did it wrong)... it's not that big of a deal.
Another change for next year, per my own students' request, is to add more questions to the test. They thought a separate section that was vocabulary and court case and constitutional clauses/amendments would adjust grades appropriately, emphasize basic knowledge necessary for the class, and lighten the load on quizzes that we take as formative assessments. I thought this was fantastic... my biggest complaint about quizzes and FRQs is that they suck so much time from instruction.
Final Analysis: During August of last year, my AP coordinator introduced an assessment tool our school district paid for. I cringed because the last thing I wanted to do was to really scour my AP scores. I was disappointed with my pass rate because I am my own worst enemy. Plus looking at my scores would bring back memories of how awful my first year in AP Government was... and it was awful. It was a dumpster fire. But I will say this. Despite feeling like I was flying blind through a curriculum that was at once familiar and alien, I saw signs of success. I can honestly say that any success was attributable to using quizzes, SBG based tests, generous retake policies for students scoring below an 80%, a hard and fast deadline for quiz, project, homework, and test retakes limited to one week (called my DROP DEAD DATE, which is one of my kids favorite features of my course). That success is visible: student grades were highly predictive of student scores on the AP exam. And while I did not have enough kids pass, I saw that if I could refine these core practices with a manageable work load, this whole thing could end up being the best thing I ever did as a teacher of this college level class offered at to high school students. Key here is if my students can be successful in a college level class offered in high school by gaining study skills and learning to manage time, then it stands to reason they will be successful in college level classes offered in college.
Only time will tell.
I want to start by thanking Mr. Snowden and Mr. Greenwald for their uncompromising dedication to giving the NSA violations air time and transparency. I wanted to share some of the most important things I have learned from this book bef...
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
by Bill Bishop
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
I lovgov. LOVE IT! I love teaching government, learning about it, debating, discussing, asking questions about government. And not the standard boiler plate questions, but the hard ones that are NOT in the books.