Another year, and another week in Salt Lake City, Utah pouring over thousands of student essays for AP Art History.
This year, we had over 27,000 essays among some 120+ readers from around the country to score. It is easily the best professional development that one can have because, unlike other subjects, you get to be trained and read over several different prompts as opposed to one prompt the entire week.
Larger subjects like AP US History or even AP World function this way – the numbers are so massive that it is unavoidable; the ship may be too large to turn around and train on other questions.
AP Art History is light enough and nimble enough to be able to achieve this. For this year, I assessed essay on three different prompts (there are 6 essay questions total for the exam). What I walked away with is that the students, collectively, are able to write more substantively about diverse topics than in years past.
The “legacy” exam tried to get students to learn to read artwork from outside the European/Western canon, but it was done rather tangentially and with difficulty. A few years ago, the committee decided (regardless of the concerns) that they would adopt a more global perspective with their art images and that this would suffice.
As for the teachers, we were very concerned at the onset as last year’s courses fell into the redesign and we were being told that although it is a global course, the 250 image set would assuage any fears. The problem is, that the burden on us teachers was that we had to quickly become experts in areas that we were unfamiliar with while also sufficiently training out students to read images from alien cultures and perform on the exam. After a second year under our belts, it is evident that we have done a better job shoring up weaknesses and the students performed better.
Now, the 250 images in the image set is actually more like 400 images total – when considering “sets” built around architectural sites, for example. At 20 minutes per image for instructional time, it adds up to a break-necked pace. It was admittedly a challenge this year to give each image its due. The scoring of the essays reflected this, too.
Although overall better, the student scores were low for the “African mask” question for question 4. Attribution, although a definite skill that is required of art historians and trained on with the students, the content that is available and perhaps properly divested among the teachers, was somewhat lacking.
As I have had experience teaching AP World History, and will be called on to teach the course again this upcoming school year, the historical training and background proved to be very beneficial when trying to contextualize the artwork from around the world. I am currently mulling over various projects to not only help share my knowledge, but also make a vital contribution to the field so that others can benefit as well.
That said, the training is top shelf in that it really helps you see the various nuances and approaches a question can take on. The multitude of responses helps sharpen your eyes regarding what you should be looking for and what you are assessing students on. There is also the added benefit of touching base with your peers and getting some new ideas about how to approach your class and its content.