Around here there has been some conversation about AP. If you’d like to read some of the thoughts, check out the following blog posts.
- How to get rid of AP…start by changing the conversation
- How to get rid of AP (part 2): why AP is bad
- How to get rid of AP (part 3): what can replace it
- Extending the AP Conversation
While I agree that many are “over the top” about AP, I believe that there are many good things to be learned from The College Board’s AP program and assessment process. I think we have to ask ourselves if it is the AP program or how we use it that causes problems. A hammer can be a tool for constructing new things, repairing damage, or a weapon that causes destruction. How the hammer is used is what is critically important.
So here is a list of my top goals about assessment, learning, and teaching inspired from The College Board.
Goal 1: Agree upon a common curriculum for our students.
Think about it…How easy is it to reach consensus from everyone in your building about what is essential to learn about a course they have in common? Imagine getting the majority of the calculus teachers in our country to teach from a common curriculum. Wow! Now, there are too many learning targets in AP Calculus AB to teach and learn in the given time frame. We have to pick the ones that have longevity and leverage. We’ve seen The College Board do this too. No longer do we find epsilon-delta proofs and trig-substitution in the essential learnings of AP Calculus AB. Does this mean I shouldn’t teach them? No, but I should think about it rather than teaching it out of habit or because I had to learn it in college in 1980.
Goal number one is to continue finding common ground and agreement among all teachers of our course in our school. It isn’t about me and what I love to teach; it is about what is important for every child to learn from our course. It is about a guaranteed curriculum for each child in our care.
Goal 2: Make learning targets and assessments as transparent as possible
Why should there be such mystery and stress about what is going to be on the test or assessment? Shouldn’t students have access to multiple representations of the learning targets that are going to be tested or assessed? If we have learned nothing else, we know that our learners need more than a list of learning targets written in words. They are young and tend to over-estimate what they know and can do. The College Board releases their free response questions publically the day after the assessment is given. Periodically, they release their multiple choice questions too. Let’s be clear; The College Board writes a new set of free response questions each year. They do not give the same test and just change the numbers. Releasing the test questions gives information about the test style and level of difficulty. How often do we offer our students examples of our assessment style? Remember, telling them that there are X multiple choice questions, Y short answer questions, and Z matching questions might not indicate the style or level of depth these questions might have.
Goal number two is to help our students perform better on our assessments by publishing our previous assessments in hopes of offering them multiple representations of our learning targets. Are we brave enough to publish the scoring guide too?
Goal 3: Expect retention, application, and synthesis of the essentials
Don’t my colleagues teaching 9th grade geometry and physics expect my students to be able to solve an equation, compute slope, and write the equation of a line when they enter the next level of coursework? Yep. The College Board’s assessment expects all students to retain, apply, and synthesize algebra, pre-calculus, and calculus topics as indicated in the assessment items of the exam.
Goal number three is to find ways to spiral our curriculum so that these essentials continue to occur on assessments and problem-solving opportunities. We strive to find application of said essentials and connections with other essentials. We are challenged to compare and contrast ideas in relevant ways.
Goal 4: Find balance in our assessments
How often do we assess our assessments? How balanced are they? Do our assessments offer every child the opportunity to show what they know? Is there a good balance of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation? Do our assessments offer students the opportunity to leverage technology? And is the point distribution balanced? The AP Calculus AB free response questions are each weighted 9 points. No one question counts 20% of an assessment.
Goal number four is to assess our assessments to make sure that there is a balance of essentials tested, to know that we have asked some questions that every child can answer, and that there are questions that will promote higher-ordered thinking skills. We need to make sure that the interesting (challenging) questions have point distribution balance. No one question should take a learner’s grade down a level.
Goal 5: Assign credit, as a team, for quality work rather than deducting points for errors
Have you listened to yourself when you are grading? Have you listened to your teammates while they mark papers? Are points awarded for work shown, or are points docked for errors? The College Board’s scoring guides are about awarding points for work shown. I checked several scoring guides. Have you seen The College Board’s scoring guide for last year’s AP Biology exam? How about the AP Macroeconomics scoring guide? All of these scoring guides state reasons to award credit and very rarely state when to deduct points. Grade, mark, and score papers together, sitting at the same table. Know that points are awarded across the board; know that credit is awarded for quality work.
Goal five is to pay attention to our language and our thoughts. We should be striving to award credit. We must coach our students to show quality work that will earn credit which means that we have to identify what we mean by quality work. We must pay attention to our thinking about finding the bright spots and good work. We must challenge ourselves and each other to take stock of and add up what is done well.
Goal 6: Collect and provide student exemplars of quality work
Have we provided our students with examples of quality work that they can analyze. Yes, if you count the teacher’s work as an example of quality work. But, have students been given the opportunity to see quality work completed by a peer, a learner in the same stage of learning? How often do we have our students use the scoring guide to mark a paper, to analyze work to learn from another? Have you seen the AP Biology samples with commentary or the AP Macroeconomics samples with commentary that accompany the online information?
Goal six is to show our learners what others have done to demonstrate understanding, to communicate process, and to record thinking.
Well, the goals above are all worthy goals – perhaps too many for one lone algebra teacher to tackle. I wonder how much could be accomplished with my team, my PLC, my PLN and/or my critical friends. Hmm…If we had to pick one, just one, which would you choose? Why?