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A Plea to AP teachers- don't measure yourself by your scores

AP scores just came out. As usual, I see the posts and take part in conversations where teachers talk about their results. Some are happy about their results, some aren't, some don't really care.

I just want to make a plea to all AP teachers out there:

Don't let your value be dictated by the college board or any other exam.

I never really cared much about my students' actual AP scores. There were a number of years when I never even saw the results. Of course, I had a population that would do reasonably well regardless of teacher so I was never placed under any pressure to "do better." One year - while the APCS-AB exam was still offered, my principal called me down to discuss the results to see if we could get more kids scoring 4s and 5s (which most of the kids already did). I told him that I thought we were doing fine, explained why I couldn't advocate more teaching to the test (such as more than paying lip service to the case study or more rote practice on the multiple choice), and told him how I measured our success as a program. He was happy with my answer and that was that.

The AP exam is one test on one day and in my opinion the least valuable measure of my students' achievement. This is one of the reasons I was so dismayed by the CSEd community's efforts in pushing the AP exams - not the class or the subject but the actual exam.

So, how should you judge your success? That's up to you. I can only tell you how I judge myself.

First and foremost - and I know this sounds cheesy - are you a "force for good" in your student's lives. Do you leave them in a better place? Have you opened the door to a possible future for them? Have you helped them grow? Beyond that, have they progressed in your subject and as students in general.

I've had kids "fail" the AP exam and go on to wonderful careers in tech and come back to thank me for giving them their start. I've also had kids that have gone into other fields but appreciate what we've done for them. I've also had my failures and I do mean my failures. Students I couldn't reach or couldn't figure out how to help.

As teachers, we work day to day trying to improve but we can get a great overview of how we're doing by using a much longer feedback loop - looking at what our graduates are up to. When young teachers would comment on former students coming back or running into them at tech events that they would have graduates of their own in a few years and invariably they do.

To really evaluate how you're doing you have to go with the long game. Very few people get that. I remember talking to a Google Executive while I was designing CAPE 2010. He said something to the effect of "I know we won't know if this program works for about ten years but we'll have to come up with something short term to satisfy the powers that be." That so few "get it" and need instant feedback is one of the reasons that our society is so test driven. We shouldn't be. Our focus should be on helping the students learn and progress.

So don't get distressed over AP results and don't get to high on them either. Certainly don't use them to drive what and how you teach. Let your students and your conscience be your guide.

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