OKS Voices: Sean Melican Elevates His Teaching Craft

Since 2017, Upper School Science Teacher Sean Melican has been among a highly select group of 350 AP Chemistry Teachers chosen worldwide by the independent, nonprofit organization ETS to read and grade AP Chemistry tests. He will begin his summer vacation working eight hours a day for seven days, reading and grading just one of the seven questions on the AP Chemistry exam.

Grading papers can be a monotonous task — much less grading the same question over and over again. Yet, Melican attributes his annual stint as a reader to be one of his most valuable professional development tasks.

“I think the big thing for me is that when reading 3,000 to 4,000 answers to the same question, you see common mistakes,” explained Melican, who says he enjoys grading the exams because it allows him to bring the knowledge he gains back to Oak Knoll. “You see common misconceptions and commonalities that you can return and say, okay, am I addressing that particular misconception? Every year, I do it, and I learn something new. A lot of times, the question can be answered two, three, or four different ways. I look at the answers and think, I never thought to teach it that way.”

With an elaborate system of readers, including a chief, a question leader, a table leader, and individual question readers, ETS ensures a rubric is finalized for each question and that individual readers are well-trained each year and capable of consistently grading exams. In the seven-day period, this highly qualified group of high school and university teachers from across the globe will come together in Tampa, Florida, to process between 160 thousand and 170 thousand exams.

“I have to go by a very specific rubric, very specific notes. It’s really like an assembly line for the sake of consistency,” Melican shared.

Melican graduated from Colgate University with a degree in chemistry. He has been a member of Oak Knoll’s science faculty for 13 years. Prior to Oak Knoll, he taught in both private schools and community colleges.

His main goal as a teacher is to inspire his students to develop a sense of scientific literacy. “We want students to walk away with critical thinking skills. If they don’t remember how to do stoichiometry, or they don’t remember the names of the six strong acids, that’s fine. But when they are watching a TikTok, reading a newspaper, or engaged in some sort of media involving science, they will have a reasonable understanding.” 

Congratulations to Melican on his service to Oak Knoll and on his work as an esteemed AP Chemistry reader for ETS.