Cedrick Argueta felt pretty confident as he walked out of the AP Calculus exam last spring.
He had memorized the fundamental theories of calculus, drilled himself on the properties of functions and practiced his graph analyses.
Yet even Cedrick was surprised when he learned last week just how well he had performed. He not only earned the top score of 5, but was one of only a dozen students in the world to earn every single point on the college-level test. It was taken by 302,531 other students.
“To be recognized as one of the 12 is really amazing,” said Cedrick, a senior at Abraham Lincoln High School. “It’s exciting to know I’m at this level of achievement.”
The test in Calculus AB – Cedrick is taking the BC sequence this year – was one of the two AP courses the East Los Angeles teen took last year and four he is taking this year. He also earned perfect scores on the English and math sections of the ACT college-entrance exam. And he managed these achievements while volunteering at the Bonnie Brae Convalescent Hospital, where both of his parents work, and “doing all the normal things that 17-year-old guys do,” he said.
Cedrick’s goal is to gain admission to Caltech – “it’s my dream school,” he said – as the first step toward a career with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“From an early age, math seemed to be easier for me than for most other people,” Cedrick said. “It resonated with me. Now, I can use those skills in the fields I want to pursue.”
While Cedrick works diligently at his schoolwork, he also credited math teacher Anthony Yom, who, from the day he entered Lincoln High, became a mentor and friend.
“From the first day, I knew that Mr. Yom was going to be special,” Cedrick said. “He wants us to be the best of the best, and the whole class is really good.”
In fact, in the five years that Yom has been teaching AP Calculus at Lincoln High, every one of his students has passed the test. Of the 21 students who took the exam last year, 17 scored a 5 – the equivalent of an A in a college-level class. And 27 of the students in last year’s graduating class earned admission to UCLA.
“We’ve got a pipeline of honors,” said Yom, who also is the coordinator of Lincoln’s Math, Science and Technology Magnet. “We make sure that our kids not only focus on math, but we have fun, too.”
Fun is something that was missing from Yom’s years in high school, he said, and the one element he tries to infuse into his classes.
“All I wanted was to be different from my math teachers,” he said. “They weren’t approachable. I really make it personal – like we all wear the same T-shirt on exam day. When they’re part of a team, they perform above and beyond.”
Yom noted that 20 of the 26 students in his calculus class this year are girls – a strong signal that females are breaking the anti-math stereotype and pursuing STEM-related careers.
“We’re changing the game here, and our students are learning they can master whatever the thing is that they want to do.”
Principal Jose Torres, who has been at Lincoln for eight of his 31 years in L.A. Unified, described Cedrick’s perfect score as a “mind-blowing” achievement.
“I’m very proud of him, but it also says a lot about our school, and it says a lot about his teacher. “Mr. Yom goes out of his way and takes the time to prepare his students. It’s a great reflection on him.”
Executives with The College Board, which administers the Advanced Placement program, also lauded the District’s staff.
“This outstanding accomplishment is likely a direct reflection on the top-quality education being offered at Abraham Lincoln High School,” Trevor Packer, senior vice president for Advanced Placement and Instruction, wrote in a letter to Torres. “We applaud Cedrick’s hard work and also the AP teacher responsible for engaging students and enabling them to excel in a college-level course.”
Advanced Placement courses are offered in 37 subjects, giving high school students the opportunity to earn college credits. Nationwide, 2.5 million high school students took 4.5 million AP exams last year, with only 322 – including Cedrick – earning every possible point. Scores on the free-response questions are weighted and combined with the weighted results of the computer-scored multiple-choice questions. A total of 108 points are available, 54 on each section.
In 2009, L.A. Unified opened enrollment in AP courses to any student wanting to tackle the advance coursework, whether or not they took the exam. About 20 percent of the District’s high school students were enrolled last year in at least one AP course, compared with 13 percent in 2007-08. Over the same period, the number of AP students who took the corresponding exam jumped from 65 to 84 percent.
Of the more than 50,000 exams taken last year in L.A. Unified, about 39 percent of students earned a score of 3 or higher, qualifying them for college credit.
“LAUSD prepares globally competitive college and career ready graduates and Cedrick is the latest example,” said School Board Member Mónica García, who represents Lincoln High. “Much more than a perfect score, we congratulate every individual that has supported his academic career – from his family at home to his family at school. With the proper support for every student in our district, we know that 100 percent graduation is absolutely possible.”