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Tutor Disallowed from Reading AP US Essays

Sophia Bollag
December 16, 2010

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This year, the presence of essay reader Doug Senz in AP US History classes has caused debate among students, teachers, and parents.

Senz works as a private tutor, and some students perceive his involvement in the classroom as a conflict of interest. Complaints and concerns from parents and students regarding Senz were brought to the attention of the administration earlier this year.

Principal Adam Clark ultimately decided to disallow Senz from reading student essays based on the fact that essays, as education records that identify a student, are not technically supposed to be handled by anyone other than the teacher.
Last school year, and at the beginning of this school year, Senz worked as a reader for AP US History classes. He was not paid by the district or the school, but read essays as a volunteer in order to provide feedback for students. Additionally, he came into AP US History classes and gave lectures about writing essays for the AP exams. In these lectures, he explained a detailed formula for writing essays, which outlined the format of paragraphs, content, and the grammatical structure of thesis statements.

According to both AP US History teachers, James Lathrop and Campbell Hunter, student essays were graded partly based on how well they followed this formula, which was part of their own essay rubric.

Last month, Clark made the executive decision to discontinue the use of Senz as a reader, though he will still come into classes to provide instruction.

“I decided that because anything with a student name on it is a student record, and so therefore the only [people] who should have access to those records are the teachers of record,” said Clark.

Clark said that he had received complaints from several families regarding the potential conflict of interest which could arise from having a tutor, who is paid privately by some students, grade papers, but that this “wasn’t necessarily part of the issue” because Senz “wasn’t grading the papers, he was giving feedback on the papers.” Clark affirmed that the teachers were the ones to assign grades on the essays.

In both classes, Senz read the essays before the teachers and made comments on them. In Lathrop’s classes, students’ essays were returned with comments from Senz written on the actual essay, and with a grade sheet filled out by Lathrop. In Hunter’s classes, students were given two grade sheets, one from Senz, the other from Hunter. Senz also wrote comments on Hunter’s students’ essays.

Lathrop has assured students that the essays for his classes are graded by himself, and not by Senz.

“I read the essays myself and use the rubric that I give [students],” he said. “So, it’s separate from Senz.”

Lathrop insisted that he did not take Senz’s comments into consideration when grading.

When asked if he took Senz’s comments into account while grading, Hunter said, “His comments are very insightful. How can you not? But I put the grade on the paper.”

Clark and the AP US History teachers said that Senz did not solicit for his tutoring on campus or collaborate with the AP US History teachers in choosing essay prompts. They have said that Senz was used as a reader simply because the teachers believe he provides helpful input for students.

According to Paul Fitzgerald, the history department chair, Senz worked at the school years ago, and was formally employed and paid by the school to grade essays.

“He graded, but then the teacher could give a higher grade,” said Fitzgerald.

Senz denied the Mirador’s requests for an interview.

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