Kansas City is known for its barbeque, is home to the major league’s Royals, and sits near the geographic center of the lower 48 states. And each June, Advanced Placement (AP) teachers and college faculty members from around the world gather to serve as readers who evaluate and score the free-response sections of AP exams.
Dr. Laurel Hester, assistant professor of biology, is among the nearly 14,700 college faculty and AP teachers evaluating and scoring about 21 million free-response answers. She was selected to participate in College Board’s annual AP reading in biology.
“The reading draws upon the talents of some of the finest teachers and professors that the world has to offer,” says Trevor Packer, senior vice president for AP and instruction at College Board. “It fosters professionalism, allows for the exchange of ideas, and strengthens the commitment to students and to teaching. We are grateful for the contributions of talented educators like Dr. Laurel Hester.”
The AP reading is a unique forum in which an academic dialogue between educators is both fostered and encouraged.
“This is my seventh year and I’ve met some great friends and colleagues here; many of whom I regularly see at the AP biology read each year,” says Dr. Hester. “We have good discussions about biology teaching and resources, and about issues specific to teaching at small colleges. There is also always a great professional lecture.”
Dr. Hester adds that while the students taking the exams are high schoolers, they are taking the exam to try to earn college credit, and the exam asks college-level questions.
“College Board releases some of the short answer questions for each exam through their website, but more than individual questions, I have learned how to write better questions for my classes, and how to grade better through my AP reading experiences,” says Dr. Hester. “I learn a lot about student misconceptions in biology by reading hundreds of exams. But perhaps I learn even more from AP reading colleagues, with more than 600 biology educators grading more than 220,000 exams.”
Dr. Hester initially submitted her name for consideration as an AP reader when she was a lecturer at Cornell University, teaching a large introductory biology course often with more than 20 lab sections.
“Sometimes, there were problems with lack of consistent grading by graduate student teaching assistants for our short answer lab analysis exam questions,” says Dr. Hester. “I was sure that College Board had experience training people to grade consistently for short answer biology questions. The best way to learn how they trained biology readers to grade using their rubrics, was to go and grade AP biology exams.”
After Dr. Hester came back from that first reading, she had a better idea of how to write an enhanced rubric for complex higher-level free response questions.
“I think the revised AP biology curriculum has done a good job of choosing depth over breadth in selected areas, and pushes teachers and students to ask and answer questions that require real critical thinking skills,” says Dr. Hester. “AP biology teachers are, in part, pushed to teach good inquiry-based lab activities, and to focus on application/evaluation thinking skills because of the challenging exam questions.”
And by being a reader for the biology AP exams, Dr. Hester believes “this is a great way to get Keuka College’s name out there... after all we’d love to have the students of these AP biology teachers come to Keuka College.”
The AP enables willing and academically prepared students to pursue college-level studies— with the opportunity to earn college credit, advanced placement, or both—while still in high school. Through AP courses in 37 subjects culminating in a rigorous exam, students learn to analyze complex problems, construct solid arguments, and see many sides of an issue – skills that prepare them for college and beyond. Research indicates that students who score a three or higher on an AP exam typically experience greater academic success in college and are more likely to earn a college degree than non-AP students.