A great deal of what we do in our AP U.S. History class depends on the students’ motivation outside of classroom time. Students are expected to teach themselves the barebones of U.S. History through their reading of America’s History textbook, written by James A. Henrietta, David Brody, and Lynn Dumenil. Each Friday, after ample review, students are expected to take a 20 question multiple-choice test to prove their reading and comprehension of the textbook.
This is probably our students’ first high-school level course that assesses student’s knowledge of information perhaps never even mentioned by the teacher. The idea is that they are learning a great deal of the historical information, some of the dryer stuff, outside of the classroom, so that inside of the classroom we are able to delve into its meaning. Together as a class we ask the big questions about the information they have gathered in their own readings of the textbook: Why did this happen? What was important about it? What are the essential questions surrounding it? What do primary and secondary documents say about it?
Parents are well aware of the structure of the course. We send students home with a letter for their parents to read and comment on, and introduce the format of the course in the beginning of the year at parent-teacher night. If one were to take issue with the concept of multiple-choice assessments, however, claiming such assessments not to represent their child’s capabilities or performance, I’d respectfully address their concerns in a couple of ways. First, I would explain why the multiple-choice assessment is the best to check in on whether or not a student is keeping up with the textbook readings. These are really information-based assessments, and so multiple-choice is a fine way to check in on student informational retention. I would also remind parents that students are expected to hand in “Key Terms” before taking these multiple-choice quizzes each week, and that these Key Terms allow the students to focus their readings and reflect on all that will be covered on the quiz through meaningful, short-responses that ask students to identify the terms and reflect on their significance. Next, I would explain that we make sure to allow for several other types of activities and projects that allow the students who are less apt to perform well on multiple-choice quizzes to better demonstrate their capabilities and understanding. We assign several debates, presentations, interpretive art projects, discussion reflections, notebook checks, and essays throughout the year, for instance. Each of these projects, that allow for more student voice, are allotted more points than the multiple-choice quizzes given each week.
I would also make sure to send the concerned parent examples of the other types of point-allotted projects and assessments we cover throughout the year. Through these, the parent will be able to see the amount of time, effort, and creativity students (and teacher alike) need to put into these activities and projects, and how they get to the essential skills needed to be successful in the course, and beyond. Ultimately, our multiple-choice tests assess students on informational knowledge and the rest of our activities and projects assess students on their conceptual and evaluative knowledge.
That informational knowledge, however, is quite essential to develop the conceptual and evaluative skills necessary to meaningfully explore historical themes. Through this class, the student learns the skill of taking the responsibility of learning into their own hands. They teach themselves the information to we can teach them the skills of how best to apply this information to explore history, society, and the mind more profoundly.