By Josette Keelor
WINCHESTER -- Students at Sherando High School in Stephens City had just over two hours to answer three essay questions on their AP U.S. or world history exams in May. Then they moved on to other topics, but that wasn't the end of it for teacher Shelly Andrews.
Earlier this month, she spent a week grading 1,575 exams from the more than 400,000 high school students nationwide who took the same test.
At the College Board's AP Reading in Louisville, Kentucky, June 1-7, Andrews learned a lot about the grading system from participating as a reader.
Her students' essays were among the 400,000, but she did not grade any of those.
The stronger essays were four or five handwritten pages and covered a broader range of topics on each essay question.
Students in our time zone were given the same document-based question and then could choose from several questions to answer for their second and third essays. Questions included topics on colonial America, Mid-19th century America, Reconstruction, New Right Conservatism and President Reagan.
Andrews admitted it's hard to do well on these exams.
"Students who do well on the AP exam have a really thorough understanding of U.S. history, because they've not only been able to identify facts and with their coordinating periods and all that but they can elaborate on them, write historical arguments and prove them with evidence.
"The students who do well on these exams really know what they're talking about," she said.
Students should start receiving results from their exams beginning in early July and will earn a score between one and five, five being the highest. Colleges and universities use the tests to determine if students can get college credit for their high school AP U.S. history or world history course.
"The College Board likes to say that if a student scores a three, they're passing, but a lot of colleges won't accept a three for college credit," Andrews said.
"Only about 53, 54 [percent of] students who take the exam get a three or higher on the exam, so it is tough," she said.
She estimates 11 percent score a five, but added, "A lot of our students get fours and fives."
And those who do "have met pretty rigorous standards to meet those."
Andrews knows teachers of other subjects at Sherando who have been readers previously, and in Warren County instructors have benefited from math teacher Ken Castor's experience with the College Board, according to Greg Drescher, assistant superintendent for instruction. He said it was a help seeing the look of the exam and methodology of the text.
"It's a pretty neat thing," Drescher said. "As opportunities open up, I'm sure that others would like to go as well."
At Sherando, Andrews said, "It's going to give our teachers and students the benefit of knowing from that experience just what they can expect, so strategically it's going to be a lot better for them."
Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org