The skills they were asked to demonstrate were the following: Generally speaking, the students did well with the skill of understanding the basic meaning of the documents.What I lightheartedly call "plot summary" is a skill most students are taught in literature classes as well as history classes, so it’s not so surprising that many students did this well.
The students summarized them (they did "plot summary") but did not explain how the document helped prove their thesis, or how it helped them to make a particular argument.
In terms of grading (scoring) the AP exam, this was very problematic: there were a lot of students out there who could do really sophisticated plot summary!
The students were essentially writing a mini-research paper in an hour.
Their essays received points (0–9) based on the mastery of historical skills as demonstrated in the essay.
To understand that issue and the various levels of horror the adviser professed, students need to learn (that is to say, must be explicitly taught) to ask questions about the point-of-view (POV) of the author—his social class, his stake in the issue at hand, his education and background, and so forth.
More of these difficult analyses need to be worked into classwork and discussion sections on a regular basis.
Interpreting documents and using them in analytical essays or papers is one of the most basic and yet one of the most intricate skills that historians employ.
As teachers, we need to be more explicit and more "transparent" when we teach students how to analyze documents.
(In the 2003 document-based question, practically no student knew what the verb "to raise" meant in relation to "soldiers." We got thousands of essays in which students wrote about raising children to fight!
) Students also often failed to "read between the lines": they missed implied information.