Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Quick Look at the Free Response for 2009

Not A Difficult Exam for the Prepared Student?

My kids came back to my room this year following the exam looking like the cat that swallowed the canary. They were very confident that they had done well on the Exam, especially the Free Response portion. On Wednesday, we looked at the Free Response questions, analyzed their worth, discussed likely rubric approved responses, and estimated our scores. They were right!!!! They did do well, very well indeed. So lets look at this Exam this week and see what was in it.

Question Number One had an extremely long and descriptive stem this year. After a summary of the purpose of Federalist #10 (previous knowledge of #10 was not required) and a statement concerning majority rule three tasks were asked. First, the students were required to identify the House of Representatives as the branch most closely linked to the citizens. Students also needed to be able to explain why (frequent elections, direct vote, smallest constituency). This would have been worth 2 points.
Next they were asked to explain two Constitutional limits on majority rule (term limits, indirect Senate elections, electoral college) for two more points. Finally, they were asked to pick from a list of three choices and explain two 20th Century developments that made the US a more democratic political system. Softballs such as the 17th and universal suffrage were obvious options. Primary elections may have been the more challenging choice in the list. In all, a relatively easy 6 point question on the basic underpinnings of the US political system.

Question two was also based on the underpinning of government and focused on elections as a linkage institution. The first task was quite easy, asking students to explain how age and education equated to voting patterns. Part (b) asked for one electoral requirement that hurt voter turn out (registration seemed to be the most obvious). Part (c) simply asked students to identify either the media, political parties, or interest groups as alternate linkage institutions and explain how the one they selected connects citizens and government. Again, this was an easy six point question that most students should have done well on. Hippocampus covers this material very well, and even gives a special chart to help students understand this.

Question Number Three was straight out of the Hippocampus unit on the legislative branch. Again a lengthy stem gives students a great deal of information on the concept of partisanship in Congress and then asks three tasks. First, students needed to identify two advantages the majority party has other than voting (the Speaker of the House, controlling committees, setting the agenda, controlling who goes on what committee, controlling the Rules committee in the House, being able to filibuster with 60 votes in the Senate). Part (b) checks to see if students know the basic differences between House and Senate procedures and Part (c) attempts to clarify student knowledge from part (b). This was probably a five point question and again, if students had reviewed how a bill was made in Hippocampus, this should have been another softball!

Question Four was a graph question, but a very easy to read graph concerning age and media news gathering. Again, this question required students to know the policy making cycle of government from the first unit in Hippocampus. Part (a) was a pure definition question on what is the policy agenda. Part (b) asked how the media was a linkage institution...several of my kids claimed to have answered this in question Number 2 (c). Part (c) was looking for a discussion on the changing face of media and part (d) was a simple chart interpretation. Part (e) was trickier, but not impossible. It asked students to discuss how a president could manipulate the media to project his/her policy agenda to the public. This appears to be a six point question with very little challenge for most students.

Ok, my initial impression is that this was an extremely easy exam for the kids IF they were well grounded in the underpinnings of democracy and the flow of issues from linkage institutions to policy makers to actual policy. With very basic electoral knowledge and very fundamental Congressional knowledge, this was a very, very doable test! Of course we will have to wait and see the scoring rubrics and how tight or forgiving those rubrics are. Sometimes very easy questions have very tight rubrics and the scoring is more difficult that first thought. We always hope for forgiving rubrics that leave a bit of latitude for the students, but we will see.

Well, this year is over!!! The next couple of postings will be covering what I will be doing over the summer to prepare for next year. It is never too late to start planning and next year I intend on doing a few new things with my classes that I would like to share with you. During the first week of June I will be doing a daily blog from the grading site giving you up to date information on how the grading is going, interviews with readers, table leaders, and question leaders, and information on how you can join us next year. Until then...


Anonymous said...

I'm currently a college student hoping to teach government starting in fall of 2010. I'm currently going through a teacher preparation program here at the University of Texas as an undergrad, so I'd just like to let you know that I enjoy all of the insight and tips you provide on this blog. Keep the posts coming!

Ric Vix said...

I am glad this has been helpful. Good luck with your first assignment next year. You can see my blog for my classes at This is where I give my students assignments, information, and weekly schedules. RV