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C'est la Z

Celebrating Perfect AP Exam Scores

So, it turns out that there were 601 perfect scores on this years APCS-A exam. Over on Facebook a great question was raised - what does this mean and should we celebrate this?

What does it mean? There's no way to know. Maybe the number of perfect scores is just scaling up linearly with test takers. Maybe More kids are being exposed to CS prior to APCS-A and that's leading to more correct answers. Are teachers teaching to the test? Maybe the test was just plain easier.

In spite of my normal anti college board leanings, I don't really have an opinion on the why. What I do have an opinion on is whether we should celebrate these scores or not.

Personally, I don't think we should.

Does a perfect score really mean so much? Has a student who gets every question correct really show that they know more or are a better computer science student then another student who merely scores a regular 5 (or an A on an in class assessment).

There have been countless times when I've looked over a test and found a really clever, innovative solution to a problem. Something that showed a much deeper understanding than the base solution I had in mind. More often than not those tests got dinged a point here or there for what I'd describe as minor errors. The students behind those tests were much stronger than many "perfect paper" students so celebrating the 100%s would be neither fair nor appropriate. More appropriate to share out the interesting solution and hopefully enrich the entire class.

Celebrating perfect scores also encourages prepping for a perfect score. That means prepping to do a lot of multiple choice questions in a short period of time. That takes test specific drilling. I'd rather my students know the material well enough to get the score they need but would rather they not spend countless hours drilling for that perfect score. That extra prep time could be better spent in countless ways including something as simple as playing a game with some friends.

A test - any test - is a limited, imperfect assessment.We should be moving away from high stakes tests and simplistic numeric grades and celebrating perfect scores in contrary to this. Celebrating a perfect test score misses the mark. We should be celebrating how our students work and progress not how they score on an imperfect testing implement be it the AP exam or one of our in class tests.

To close, I'll leave you with a story. It's about a college acceptance but if you substitute perfect test score the gist is the same.

I was talking to a friend of mine. His daughter went to Stuy and had just gotten into her dream school. It also, coincidentally was the school that her older brothers went to. I said to my friend "John, you must be very proud of your daughter on getting into her dream school."

"No," John replied. "I'm not proud, I'm happy for her. I'm proud of her when she helps somebody."

It's not the outside, imperfect validations we should be celebrating. Rather we should be celebrating how our kids live, grow, and develop.

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