The question took me by surprise.
I’d just spent an hour or so sharing how I facilitate readers and writers workshop in my AP English Language classroom. I’d shared a video that showed my students testifying to how much they like having a choice in the books they read and why they feel like they will learn through choice reading this year. I’d shared a mini-lesson on how I teach skills using the books students choose to read, even when they are reading 30 different texts. I’d answered a variety of questions asked by pre-service teachers in Dr. Leavell-Carter’s master’s class at the University of North Texas and started to pack my things.
“What about your AP scores, did they go up?” one young woman asked, “I mean, I just think that would be a double benefit,” she said with a smile.
They say there are no bad questions, but I’ll go to the mat arguing that this is one we really need to stop asking.
I answered as honest as I could: “No. . .well, yes, when I began facilitating writer’s workshop, my scores increased double digits, but I don’t put much stock in AP scores, any standardized test scores, really, there are so many variables, you know; the students and their abilities differ from year to year, and since I’ve only taught in Title I schools where open enrollment is an invitation for all students to take AP classes with no prerequisites or even any preparation for the rigorous coursework, it’s difficult to prepare all students all the time at the same level of learning…”
Then I kicked myself all the way home. Why was I trying to justify my test scores? I’ve written about this before. I have much better proof that workshop works than any kind of testing data:
- Many of my students read more during the nine months they spend in my class than they do in
all of the 10 years of school they’ve had prior to coming to me.
- Almost all of my students read more books the year they spend with me than they read the year before.
- Many students read their first book cover to cover their junior year in my AP English class.
- Most students move into complex reading on their own because choice not only gets students reading; it gets them reading critically.
- Students tell me every year, “Thank you for allowing me to love reading again.”
- My readers learn to see themselves, and to see beyond themselves, by participating in book clubs with peers in non-threatening conversations about literature.
- My writers take ownership of their writing and compose beautifully and skillfully crafted texts.
There is no test that measures what my student come to appreciate as readers or what they come to realize as writers.
Sure, I want my students who choose to take the AP exam to do well, but I do not believe it shows what they come to understand about language. (And after scoring essays in Kansas City in June, I believe that even less.) Sure, I’ll keep encouraging my students to take the exam, but I believe most of them will benefit from taking freshman comp in college — even if they read and write well enough to score a 5. At least one English professor agrees with me:
“AP-credits are not always an accurate gauge of student learning. High AP scores in chemistry, for example, may indicate that students understand the basic concepts, but that doesn’t mean they know what to do at a laboratory bench.” (Bobby Fong, college dean and English professor).
I say what’s true for chemistry is also true for English. That doesn’t mean they know what to do when writing an essay for graduate school or a blog post for their employer or reading a report for their business or a decree in a divorce settlement.
Let’s focus on the skills our students need to be successful in the lives that lay before them.
For me, readers and writers workshop helps me do that.
©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015