On July 5, thousands of students around the world received their scores on tests they had taken in April: the AP (Advanced Placement) tests.
Seventy-two Country Day students, ranging from freshmen to seniors, took 212 of these vigorous, topic-specific tests.
Of those tests taken, 91.7 percent received scores of 3 or higher, a significant increase from the previous four-year average of 86.2 percent.
The percentage of tests that earned 3’s or above in the United States was 62 percent, while the global percentage of tests earning 3’s or higher was 60 percent.
Country Day offers courses for 17 different APs, but some students took tests in classes the school didn’t offer, such as AP Chinese Language and Culture, AP Macroeconomics and AP Japanese Language and Culture.
In correlation with the data, many faculty members said that this was one of the strongest AP years in the school’s history.
“My results this year were amazing,” Patricia Fels, AP English Language and Composition teacher, said, “the best I’ve ever had. (There was) a 4.6 average!”
“I was especially pleased by the large number of 5’s and that I had no 2’s.”
Fels, although ecstatic, said she was a little surprised by the results.
“I had expected the juniors to do well,” Fels said, “but not that well!”
Sue Nellis, AP U.S. History teacher, was also pleasantly surprised by her results.
“The results for my class were outstanding this year,” Nellis said, “maybe the best ever.”
Nellis, like Fels, did not have any scores lower than a 3.
“I often have one person who may get a 2 for a variety of reasons,” Nellis said. “But I always have a strong showing on the test.”
But not this year.
“Everyone passed this year,” Nellis said. “And the number of 4’s and 5’s was significant.”
Nellis said she believes that the new AP U.S. History test format better suits Country Day students.
“It relies on critical thinking and strong writing skills,” Nellis said, “which is something we all focus on throughout high school.”
While some of the teachers were pleasantly surprised by out-of-the-ordinary results, others experienced a normal year.
Richard Day, AP French Language and Culture teacher, said that his strong scores did not surprise him.
“This year, the students didn’t seem all that confident after the test,” Day said, “so I was a little worried. That said, I was not at all surprised by the good results.”
But AP Latin teacher Jane Batarseh experienced a different situation.
“Neither of the two students who took the AP Caesar/Vergil passed,” Batarseh said.
However, she noted that the AP Latin pass rate is only 50 percent nationwide.
“They (the students), must be able to work proficiently and quickly,” Batarseh said, “and this requires a little risk-taking, which they are loath to do, since the AP only gives credit for a literal translation. There is no paraphrasing or free translation allowed. There are no Latin SparkNotes for the ‘Aeneid.’”
The students’ responses were as varied as the teachers’.
Junior Atsuo Chiu received 5’s on both AP Japanese and Culture (a course not offered at Country Day) and on AP Calculus AB, taught by Chris Millsback.
“It was easy,” Chiu said. “No surprises.”
Yet junior Nina Dym, who also received a 5 on AP Japanese Language and Culture, was worried about her result.
“At first I didn’t want to check my score,” Dym said. “But when I ran into Mr. Wells at school while volunteering for Breakthrough, he told me that I shouldn’t be scared to check my scores and hinted that I did well.”
“I was nervous at first because I would have been so embarrassed if I had gotten anything lower (than a 5) after devoting my Saturdays for 11 years to Japanese school.”
In addition to Japanese school, Dym said she has studied in Japan for three weeks every summer for six years.
Junior Christian Van Vleck was very pleased with his performance, scoring a 5 on the AP English exam and 4’s on both AP U.S. History and AP Spanish Language and Culture.
“Both were about the range that I expected,” Van Vleck said. “The 4 on AP Spanish was a good surprise; I barely expected a 3.”
Others were surprised by their results, too. Junior Michelle Li, who scored a 3 on AP Chemistry and a 5 on AP Calculus AB, was expecting the opposite results.
“I didn’t think I did that well on math, but then I got a 5. But I was pretty confident on my chemistry (AP), but then I got a 3. Surprising.”
Li’s grades in AP Chemistry, as well as her passion for the subject, didn’t seem to add up to a 3, she said.
“Chem is my favorite subject,” Li said, “and I did well (in it) the whole year. I was also confident about my test after I finished it.”
So a 3 is really low for my expectations.”
But for others, a 3 was satisfactory.
Junior Bryce Longoria said he wasn’t upset with his 3 on his AP Calculus AB test.
“I was hoping for a 5 or 4,” Longoria said, “but I knew I would have to do really well to get those scores.”
Longoria said he wasn’t anxious to see his scores during the almost two-month wait between the date of the APs and the results.
“I forgot about checking until (my brother) Jake told me the scores were released,” Longoria said.
After the test results are released, many teachers start thinking about how they can improve their scores in the future.
Daniel Neukom, AP European History teacher, was pleased that all of his students received 3’s and above, but he is already looking ahead.
“I always have some minor refinements year to year,” Neukom said. “Brexit is going to be a major topic of discussion next year.”
Next year, in the hopes of giving juniors more practice with different types of writing, Fels plans to allocate the first 10 minutes of each class alternating between grammar and “quick reads” (newspaper and magazine articles).
Nellis attended a seminar on the Supreme Court at Stanford University in July to examine other educators’ ideas on the matter.
“I met some outstanding teachers,” Nellis said. “There were about 30 of us, I think, and we got along so well that we started a Facebook page to keep in touch and post future information. We also have a blog with resources and a lesson plan we each wrote this week that anyone can use.”
Although Batarseh has had only one student get a 4 on the AP exam, she is hopeful for next year.
“Every year I tweak my lesson plans in hopes that my Latin students will be better prepared for the AP,” Batarseh said. “I always seem to be working on the same two areas: knowledge and confidence.”
Batarseh explained the complexity of Latin.
“Latin is a highly inflected language,” Batarseh said. “There are well over 3000 distinct verb, (noun), adjective, adverb, and participle endings. In addition, Latin has no word order. Meaning is derived from inflected endings.”
Based on that knowledge, Batarseh explained that her primary job is “practicing thoughtful redundancy in order to lodge those forms in (the) long-term memory.”
“So the question is,” Batarseh said, “how to help students internalize their knowledge of grammar so that they own their reading.”