Did the College Board Let APUSH Teachers Down This Year? | Sherpa Learning

Did the College Board Let APUSH Teachers Down This Year?

Without the proper support materials, the 2015 APUSH test takers were a bit like guinea pigs.

Did the College Board Let APUSH Teachers Down This Year?

by Michael Henry, Ph.D.

My answer to this question is a qualified yes. This past year, there has been a great deal of media attention surrounding those protesting the new APUSH exam, with pockets of drama erupting in Colorado and Oklahoma. But there has been very little attention paid to the most shocking and dismaying aspect of the exam redesign—the lack of educator support. It is this lack of support that has impacted APUSH teachers nationwide as they scrambled to make modifications and adjustments to their instructional and assessment policies to coincide with the newly redesigned course.

Simply put, the lack of direction from the College Board left teachers and students anxious about an exam that is already known to cause great unease, even at its (status quo) best. The College Board and its agent, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), have offered minimal guidance and resource materials. To a large extent, neither organization has provided adequate support for classroom teachers. Even in the final weeks leading up to the exam, instructors were still scrambling to find good multiple-choice test items to use with their students and desperate for guidance as to how they should evaluate the Short-Answer, Long Essay, and Document-Based Questions.

Where—specifically—did the College Board go wrong? Let me touch upon the most glaring support deficiencies for the 2015 exam.

  • There have been only a handful of secure multiple-choice questions released, and this small number of items does not fill the needs for regular, in-class testing. To fill the gap, teachers have been left to use commercially produced test items or to make up their own questions, which is a very arduous and time-consuming task.
  • The student sample essays that were made available are not based on the new rubrics! This lack of proper training with the new standards has rendered the student responses vague and subjective, with little clarification as to how critical elements of essays, such as contextualization and synthesis, should be identified and assessed.
  • Finally, there was a great deal of confusion regarding the scope of coverage required for Period 9—specifically the need to discuss events after the year 2000. Practically no records are available yet for these years, most participants are still alive, and the era seems very susceptible to personal opinion and political bias. Recently, the College Board has begun to take action to clarify this issue.

All this being said, there may be some consolation in this lack of appropriate guidance. We must remember that we are all in the same proverbial boat. No one found a secret stash of multiple-choice items or great anchor papers to fortify instruction. And, in the final analysis, the determination of AP grades will still be, in part, norm-referenced. Students will still be evaluated based on their knowledge and skills, but they will also be compared with their fellow test-takers, nationwide. We really are in this together.

Let us hope that the College Board will soon release a plethora of student essay samples and many more secure multiple-choice questions. I think the College Board owes this to teachers. Don’t you agree?

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter. You can leave comments below this blog article, or you can weigh in on Sherpa Learning's Facebook page. Talk to us about how your students felt about the exam. I'll have plenty more to discuss after this year's exam reading, so subscribe to the blog if you'd like to be notified when new articles are posted.

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