By Kevin McDonald, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Kevin McDonald teaches AP English Language and Composition at Edmond Memorial High School in Edmond, OK. He and his wife, an elementary music teacher, have two daughters who are well on their way to becoming educators themselves. He works as a consultant for the College Board and also helps with his high school's marching band program.
(CNN) - Advanced Placement scores for millions of students are being released to schools this week. What most people may not realize is that the free-response sections of these exams are scored by thousands of AP teachers and college faculty. Teachers like me.
I just completed my 15th year of teaching, 14th year as an AP English language and composition teacher, and 11th year as an AP reader. This year, 11,000 of my fellow educators and I from across the country and around the world convened to score more than 3.7 million AP exams in 34 subjects.
Learn more about the AP Reading and scoring process here.
In my time as an AP reader, I’ve also spent six years as a member of my reading’s leadership team, and I can attest that the reading – the annual gathering to score student exams – has truly been some of the best professional development I’ve ever attended.
In fact, my willingness to give up nine to 14 days to score as many essays as humanly possible should stand as testament to my belief in the process.
One of the main benefits of the reading is the immersion in the scoring process, where it is your sole occupation for eight hours a day. This, matched with the fact that I’m removed from the rest of the distractions of daily life, allows for a focus that is difficult to reproduce.
After being trained to score essays, and then reading several hundred of them over the course of a week, I return home with a stronger sense of what the AP English language and composition course expects of students and more confident as I approach the development of content for my own AP class. I also share that knowledge with my colleagues and through workshops I present for the College Board, so that more educators can benefit from my reading experience.
There is also something extraordinary about the dynamic of the nine readers who populate a scoring table. As a small group of extremely motivated, highly trained professionals, we have detailed conversations about student writing and what characteristics a student must display on one of three writing tasks to demonstrate collegiate quality work.
These tables are a mix of high school teachers and college and university professors who share their own concerns and biases, all while working to accept the norms established by the reading leadership. This exchange is invaluable in the preparation of not only my AP students, but all of the students I come into contact with on a daily basis. As much as my experience at the reading works to prepare my AP students for exam success, it also enhances the richness of my non-AP classes.
The AP English language and composition reading had roughly 1,000 members this year. The dedication and professionalism of those individuals is geared toward one thing: ensuring student success. This is not about all students “passing” the test, but about engendering the kinds of dialogue that will lead to improved instruction for all students.
It is about diagnosing trends in writing on an international scale and brainstorming ways to help all of our students - particularly the ones not yet college proficient - to improve as writers in a world that increasingly demands skills in multiple modes of writing, including email, tweets, blogs and status updates.
As one of the few venues where college professors and high school teachers work side-by-side for an extended period of time in such large numbers, our ability to bridge the notorious gap between high school and higher education grows exponentially.
The AP readings represent a microcosm of professionals who devote themselves to students, and the annual event has introduced me to some of my best friends, all of whom I admire for their commitment to student learning. We share our bags of instructional tricks that can make students stronger in our subject and better prepared for the world they will enter once they leave high school, be it a college or university or the work force.
Having had the good fortune to be selected to the reading, and to have proven worthy of returning repeatedly (each invitation is only for one year), has made me a better teacher. This has happened because of the people, process and professionalism that I have only found at the Advanced Placement reading.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kevin McDonald.