Thursday, June 20, 2013

Meeting the Million Question Challenge

On Tuesday, I returned home from yet another AP Statistics Reading.  Hard to believe that I've been doing this for nine years and at four different venues.  After previous stops in Lincoln, NE, Louisville, and Daytona Beach, the AP Stats caravan moved to Kansas City last year, but I was unable to attend.  This year was a different story.

I've never written much about my AP experiences on this blog, or anywhere else for that matter, so I've decided to write a little bit regarding what this operation is all about.  The AP Stats exam was first offered in 1997, and 57 good folk and true (true Stats junkies, that is) from high schools, prep schools, and colleges across the land graded about 8000 test booklets that first year.  To give you an idea of how the enterprise has grown, there were many more first-time AP Readers ("Acorns," as we call them, based on the College Board logo) in K.C. this June than there were readers at that first go-round.  For the first time, we were faced with the Million Question Challenge: with 640 Readers and about 170,000 students taking the exam this past May, our task was quite literally to grade over 1,000,000 questions.  No, I didn't have to grade each and every one of the six free-response questions.  A Reader typically is assigned two questions, cycling back to finish grading the first once the second is done.  The Reading day runs from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with two breaks for... well, a break, and one hour for lunch.

Gone are the days when Readings could be held on college campuses such as the University of Nebraska (actually, we stayed in NU dorms and graded on the neighboring former site of the Nebraska State Fair).   Not even Daytona is big enough to hold us now.  Instead, it's large cities, chain hotels, and large convention centers all the way.  We worked at the Kansas City Convention Center (at right in above picture) along with the Readers for AP Calculus, AP Biology, and AP Government and Politics.  Did I mention that the KCCC was large?  Actually, we Stats folks stayed pretty much to ourselves, even when we joined the huddled masses in the dining hall (aka the Grand Ballroom) at lunchtime.  The food service at past Readings has ranged from delectable (Lincoln) to dubious (Louisville and Daytona), and I'd rate the KC experience somewhere between those two poles.  We definitely got mass-catered food, but it was good mass-catered food, and I made it a point to tell one of the caterers as much on the last day.  The logistics were definitely better than they were in either Louisville or Daytona, with 10 serving lines and plenty of seating space.

At lunchtime, I typically found it the better part of valor to head outside and eat on a patio adjacent to the Grand Ballroom.  Not because I'm claustrophobic, but because I needed the chance to thaw out.  The Reading rooms (actually, open spaces separated by curtain partitions) are COLD, especially late in the day when they crank down the thermostat to help keep us awake (at least, such is my entirely reasonable theory).  I was obliged to wear long pants and my "Kit Cloudkicker Collection" green sweatshirt most of the time.

Cold temps aside, the KCCC was fairly comfortable apart from one somewhat scary moment on Saturday the 15th.  An afternoon thunderstorm blew through town and knocked out the lights.  Luckily, the auxiliary lights quickly came on, so we could continue grading.  The rain got heavy enough that a literal cataract of water could be seen leaking down one of the walls of the hall.  Kansas City is known as a "City of Fountains," but it didn't have to arrange an extra display for my benefit.  No real damage done, thank goodness.

We didn't have many opportunities to see the local sights (and, yes, KC does have sights) so I contented myself with the next best thing: visiting local restaurants.  I was already planning to get breakfast outside the convention center and was lucky enough to hit upon a branch of a local supermarket chain, Cosentino's, that appears to be the KC-area version of the East Coast's Wegmans and the Richmond area's late, lamented Ukrop's.  This self-billed "Unique Food Experience" (not strictly true, but I'm not complaining) offered a wide variety of prepared foods in addition to the standard supermarket items.  The chain was founded by an Italian immigrant, and the wall behind the customer service desk featured a picture of him next to a (gasp!) crucifix.  What would Al Khan of 4Kids make of that, Greg? 

Of course, I simply had to try some of that legendary KC barbecue while in town.  Unfortunately, most of the really legendary places were too far away to be easily accessible without taking a long and expensive cab ride.  I "settled" for the somewhat less famous Jack Stack BBQ, which was within walking distance.  I had been given a tip that this was a good place to go, and the food was good, but eating there wasn't... well, momentous.  To be perfectly honest, Extra Billy's, my favorite BBQ place in the Richmond area, was just as good.  Perhaps I failed to appreciate the piquancy and finish of the sauce, or something.

I had a better dining experience at Grunauer, a German-Austrian place next to Jack Stack in what is called the Freight House District.  I suppose that I was swayed by memories of all that great eating in Vienna and Budapest during our trip to Europe several years ago.  If so, then I should let such memories be my guide more often, for the food was excellent.  I had Hungarian beef goulash mit spaetzle und kraut, and, though the portions didn't seem all that large, they filled me up right quick.  I had a good table at the bar to watch Phil Mickelson let it get away in the final round of the US Open.  And, yes, beer was present, as well.  In fact, I had more beer during this KC sojourn than I've probably had in any such concentrated time period in my life.  Only after Reading hours, naturally...

As long as they'll have me, I intend to continue active participation in the AP Readings.  It's a tiring but fun experience.

1 comment:

Gregory Weagle said...

It wouldn't matter if it was Al Khan or not; many anime BS&P guys wouldn't have allowed crosses on their programs. Although sloppiness didn't prevent some in Digimon 02.

Al Khan's biggest problem is writing on signs because in Al Khan's mind; children don't read. Which is fatally flawed because if they don't read; then how do they use the internet in any way?