I spent four weeks in May losing my mind over the Advanced Placement (AP) tests. For the students, it's about inflated GPAs and college credit; for the parents, it's about prestige, family honor, and one-upping the family down the street; for me, it's about getting the paperwork right and giving as many tests as necessary using the fewest resources. In a word, AP tests embody education as a whole--do it well, do it better than the other guy, and do it cheap. (When I took the AP tests in high school--I took four of them--all we got was college credit. No GPA bump, no neighborhood comparisons, no expensive preparation classes. We took the classes, we took the tests, and we got what we got. One of the tests got me out of two semesters of history my first year of college.)
So here are some of the highlights (some of which include new AP test titles I've come up with; feel free to suggest your own):
I don't know how anyone else feels about deadlines for students, but here's a phrase I used quite a bit: if you can't manage to register for the test during the four month registration window, how do you expect to get a decent score on the test? These kids had from the end of October to the end of February to make three marks on a form and pay $83.00 for each test. Even if they had to spread it over payments, they still had four months to get it done. The last payment came in--no kidding--three days after the test. I can't wait for that kid to start paying taxes.
Each section of each individual AP test is sealed in shrink-wrap. When you open the test packet, the free response section is still sealed in its own shroud of shrink-wrap. (The REAL money in college testing, I think, is in the shrink-wrap business.) Of course, the little red strip of plastic you're supposed to pull to open the whole thing doesn't work, and students use their teeth, their fingernails, even their brute strength to get the thing open. If only they had something sharp . . . like . . . a pencil?
(No, it's not a voting test.) Some students come prepared to take the test. Others come not so prepared, but they take the test seriously. Others still show up to the test and you wonder how they even found the room, much less why they signed up for the class in the first place. During one exam, I toured around the room making sure no one was cheating only to find that very few were taking the test at all. One of the questions provided statistics about an E. Coli outbreak and asked for a statistical analysis. One student wrote the words "I don't know" and then proceeded to draw the finest pencil sketch of a hamburger I'd ever seen in my life. Another student created a word search puzzle that filled the page, complete with a list of words to be found. Needless to say the Statistics teacher will be pissed when he sees the scores; the art teacher, on the other hand, would have been impressed. (By the way, did you know that the new-fangled graphing calculators that all these kids use nowadays have games built into them? I thought they were working really hard on the test.)
AP Cocktail Party
I'm not one to throw stereotypes around, but I will say this: many student athletes have no earthly business at an AP test administration. When the instructions say "don't talk until I have collected all the test materials from everyone," it means "shut up or I'll think you're cheating." Most of the kids who would talk, crack jokes, or actually get up like they were working the room were athletes at our school. I realize that they have a different sense of what appropriate social behavior is in an academic setting, but it's really a let-down to know that the guy working really hard to make this test happen (me) seems to be the only one who cares about it. I didn't do it, but it would have been nice to say--just once--"Congratulations, Shortstop, you just invalidated the tests of everyone in this room." It would have been nice, just to make the point, but the eggheads would have skinned him alive, and it wasn't time for the "AP Gross Anatomy" test yet.
Each AP test comes in two parts: the multiple choice section, and the free response section. After the multiple choice section is over, students are supposed to seal the book up using three Avery labels. They're left with a perfect 3x3-inch square of wax paper, which is perfect for folding paper airplanes, little boxes, "cootie-catchers," and paper cranes (both the static AND the pull-the-tail-and-the-wings-flap variety). I started a collection of them, and students tried to compete at one point. It got to be such a running gag that I jokingly put on the board "AP Origami test has been postponed to May 23rd." The only thing that disappointed me was that I didn't get a single frog. Not even during the AP Biology test. (NOTE: The AP Bio test does not involve dissection. I had visions of feline cadavers in shrink-wrap, but it doesn't work that way.)
My Personal AP Awards:
Best Origami: It would have to be the Samurai Hat, though two kids made little paper cups. (Since they used waxed paper, they actually drank from the cups, so I don't have either of them.)
Fun Fact: About 20% of our school's AP students snore. (The AP Program should take note: lots of kids finish these tests early.)
Worst Question: "May is the fifth month, right?" (I can't wait to see his score. It was a Calculus test, of all things.)
Dumbest Question: "Is there really an AP Origami test?" (I answered that there was; if you can fold 1,000 paper cranes in three hours you get "5." I think she believed me.)
Best Question AND Best Quote: (This was during the five question, multiple choice survey each student must fill out about how they prepared for and why they decided to take the test) "Mr. Q6, I don't know how to answer #3; it wants to know what motivated me to take this test and 'Asian Parents' isn't anywhere on the list."