Practicing What I Preach Is Really, Really Hard

I’ve been debating when to write and publish this post for a couple of weeks now.  I couldn’t decide whether to publish this before or after the APUSH scores are released because I could see pitfalls with both times.  I have some issues with the new APUSH exam and the way the new exam was rolled out this year, and I wanted to have those criticisms on the record at some point.  I worried that by writing before the AP scores were released I might be accused of making excuses for lower scores than I would like to see, but I also worried that writing after the AP scores were released might be taken as just a bit of sour grapes.  I have been reading what many other APUSH teachers are saying, and so many teachers keep writing, “I’ll wait until after the scores are published to tell you what I think about the new test.”  That reads to me as if those teachers will only voice their complaints if the scores are low; if the scores are high, they won’t be as critical.  But surely, if the criticisms they have are valid, the scores – whether high or low – shouldn’t influence the airing of those criticisms.  Thus, I decided to write and publish now since the scores will start to be released tomorrow.

Sometimes by airing our grievances, even when nothing seems to change as a result, we change.  We are able to make adjustments ourselves that make for better results in the future.  It is in that spirit that I am writing today.  So here are my main criticisms with the new test and its rollout in no particular order.

  • The rollout was flawed.  Changes to the test were made throughout the year, forcing teachers and students to adjust on the fly.
  • There were not nearly enough College Board sample questions to practice with students leading up to the test, and some of these samples weren’t released until quite late in the school year.
  • It was at best hazy and at worst opaque as to how students would be assessed when it came to the writing components and the overall scoring of the exam.
  • Although I wasn’t at the reading, it seems some significant changes were made to the rubrics and how they were used after the fact.  How this could possibly be viewed as ethical is beyond me.
  • The test itself, while trying to assess critical thinking, was poorly written, with vocabulary and phrasing that teachers and students could conceivably read in multiple ways, making the objective of finding the best answer rather challenging under the best conditions.
  • It IS biased towards the Left.  It just is.  It is.  There’s no point in denying this anymore when more than 55 of some of the most revered historians (many on the liberal side themselves) at the most prestigious institutions have now said this.
  • The new rubrics lead to very poor writing on the part of the students as they attempt to jump through multiple artificial hoops, hoops that college students do not have to jump through in their college history classes.
  • Instead of giving teachers and students, who were treated as little more than guinea pigs for the whole year, a bit of grace on the grading this year, the overall scores were LOWER this year than in past years. I would have been content with a similar percentage of 5s, 4s, 3s, etc.  Instead, we have a significantly higher percentage of 1s and fewer 5s, 4s, and 3s than in years past.
  • In testing “historical thinking,” much of the historical facts are missing.  And yes, there are such things as historical facts.

I doubt I’ve actually covered it all, but that’s enough for a start, I think.

Here’s my second quandary.  What now?  The College Board has said that some changes will be made, but these changes will in all likelihood be small and rather insignificant.  This new test is here to stay, and last year’s debacle of a rollout is over.  Nothing I do or say now is going to change the scores that are headed out tomorrow.  So what now?

I find myself in the really uncomfortable position of having to practice what I preach to my students.  You see, I always have told my students that the scores don’t matter.  I mean, I push them and I prod them to get the best score possible.  But inevitably some students don’t do as well as I would have liked and as well as they would have liked.  I have always told these students, and all my students, it doesn’t matter.  The process, the learning…that’s what matters.  “Did you learn a lot – about history and about how to learn and think?” I ask them.  “Yes,” they say.  “Good. Then the score doesn’t really matter.”  A student who earns a 2 may in fact have learned more throughout the year given where he began than a student who earned a 5.  The student who earned the 5 may have come in knowing much more from the start, you see.  So the score alone tells us next to nothing about the amount of growth and learning that took place.  In that sense, the score does not matter.

Well, now I’m stuck because I, as the teacher, have to practice what I preach to my students.  The scores may be a bit lower than I would like this year.  Did I learn a lot about the new test this year?  Yes.  Did I learn a lot about how to better prepare my students for next year?  Yes.  Had I not already begun preparing for the 2015-16 school year before the 2014-15 year was even over, and do I not continue to prepare even now?  Yes and yes.  If that’s the case, then the scores do not matter.  Moving forward matters…even with a deeply flawed APUSH test and rollout.  I am repeating this to myself again and again because, and those of you who know me well know this already, this is incredibly hard for me.  I believe this for my students, I want them to believe it for themselves, but applying it to my own situation is difficult, and that’s probably an understatement.  So wish me luck and send good thoughts my way…not for good scores, but for the words that I preach to my students to be lived out truthfully by their teacher.