Past & Present: Grading 2.5 Million Essays On History

Jun 12, 2018

Every June, I leave Wichita to score US AP History exams for seven days. In a digital age, this is a thoroughly analogue event. This year, more than 450,000 high school students took the four-hour exam and produced more than 2.5 million essays. These essays are handwritten, with words and phrases scratched out and arrows directing you to where the “real” second paragraph can found on page four.

To score all these essays in a week, this year approximately 1700 high school history teachers and professors descended on Tampa, Florida. The main room of the convention center was divided into sections, with each section scoring a particular question. Within these sections, we were divided into tables of 8 readers with 1 table leader.

Every day, we report to our tables by 8:00 a.m. and leave at 5:00 p.m. Cell phones and electronic devices are prohibited. There are designated times for stretching, snack, and lunch breaks. On the first day, we train on the rubric for our question and then begin receiving packets of exams. Hundreds of local employees move and keep track of these packets as they are scored throughout the week. On the outside, I am just a cog in this factory working at top efficiency.

But there’s the human side that keeps me coming back. This is where I see old friends and meet new ones. Colleagues wear clever history t-shirts knowing that for a week they won’t have to explain their brilliance. Every day around 2:00 p.m., there’s a newsletter that circulates telling you about professional development activities and baseball game opportunities. We complain about institutional food, compare notes from another year of teaching, and enjoy each other’s company in a way reminiscent of summer camp. I return exhausted, but know that, if invited, I’ll be back.