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Analysis
June 8, 2007 - 7:29am

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Some of you were curious if the man in the slideshow in my previous post is me. Alas, no. That’s my roommate here in Louisville, and new friend, Peter—Yalie, former Whiffenpoof (click to listen), and jet-setting prep-school teacher. If he wasn’t the ugliest man at the AP Reading, poor fellow, I’m not sure I could bear it.

Today we passed the 50%-graded mark. ETS says Saturday will be a full day, and that that’s unusual.

Our Table Leader goes for meetings in the hallway every few hours. After one of these trips he revealed that he gets fairly detailed statistics about our speed and performance as readers. (As we finish them, graded booklets with their bubble sheets are whisked away by an incredibly-attentive crew of young people and are taken somewhere on-site to be run through an optical reader. Numbers are crunched nearly in real-time.)

The good news was that our table was at least as fast as the room average, and we were slightly ahead in accuracy. I wondered what our “accuracy” could mean in scientific terms, since we’re reading essays.

He said the computer can predict essay scores based on the objective portion of the AP tests, a multiple-choice exam. Peter said it seemed unlikely that there would be a direct correlation, and I asked why ETS had students write essays at all, if it was possible to predict the scores accurately.

The Table Leader said there’s a “0.4 correlation of objective to discursive sections,” but he wasn’t clear on what that meant., oher than it wasn't a one-to-one correlation, or a correlation of zero. In any case, the statisticians at ETS have “millions of samples from many years of testing, so it’s a deep well to draw from,” he said. “Their job, after all, is to prove the validity of the tests.”

Peter wondered if ETS had ever studied the college performance of students who had taken their tests. “That’s creepy,” I said. “But it would be interesting to see.”

“It is a bit creepy,” the Table Leader said. He looked disturbed.

He said he’d changed 25% of our scoring, a little or a lot, as he “back-checked” more than 10% of our exam books in the first days of this reading. He also knew that the room’s average score was 4.88 (out of 9 possible) and that our table was reading slightly higher than that. He encouraged us to “stick to the rubric, not to reward students.” Since the stats showed we were accurate and ahead of the curve, it meant we’d just been given good folders (of 25 exam books each), so he cautioned that bad folders to come would look that much worse.

I was so focused today on a student paper—in the zone, making it happen—that I used up the last of my attention and energy without realizing it, and nearly fell off my chair. Many people are standing to read in order to stay awake and alert. It’s a nasty little thrill to open the exam booklet and see nothing where Question Three should be. Usually, though, it means the student wrote it first, so I flip back to the start. It also means the student still had two hours of test time ahead of her, and lots and lots of nervous energy.

Just to keep you abreast, here’s what I learned today from student essays:

“In order to illustrate a general truth, an author will create a character, eliminating the need of an author to state his message. This helps teach a lesson to all its readers: We must accept each other for our successes and failures.”

But: “Beauty has a price. Because of the beauty of the novel’s protagonist, her past was filled with rape, loss of a child, loss of a husband, twice-over public scorn, hard labor, general mistreatment, all climaxing into an execution.”

Yeesh. I’m glad I hide my beauty deep, deep inside, where it belongs.

 

 

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