An Open Letter to my AP Biology Students

To my AP Biology students,


The scores are out and they are not what we wanted. The results are surprising and disappointing. The numbers on this report do not represent the competency I led you to believe you had developed this year. We have stumbled, together; we must now become better from this struggle.


I made some difficult choices this year in the pursuit of including more students in our course. From the outset I told you it would be different from past years, and it was. There is an answer I know and it is the application of tremendous effort and rapid coverage. That work has earned previous students success on exams past, but those methods left too many excluded from growth or discouraged from the larger pursuit of science. I am sad, but I am not sorry.


You worked hard all year long. Each one of you grew as a scientist and as a learner. You explored topics that interested you and made plans for the future. You considered yourself in a new light as you saw what the future might hold. Our course was not one in which you simply survived, and in May each of you left with justified assurance of what you had learned and awareness of what you had not. Your confidence, knowledge and growth is my greatest victory this year. I am proud, but I am not satisfied.


This is a moment when I am reminded my choices matter. My professional freedom has an impact on your life. These scores do not define you as scientists, but they do have consequence. We could have done better. It is my fault. I could have made different choices. I long for a control class to run with my students to know if I made good or bad choices. I must smile at the irony of teaching a natural science through social science. I am confused, but I am resolute.


I still believe in practice and supporting re-consolidation with the same primacy as learning. I will struggle in the coming months to incorporate this new data into my understanding of our class’ achievement. I refuse to revert to my previous model because I believe in you and what you’ve done more than test scores. Our time together has been my greatest work as a teacher. But so will next year’s. Remain invested. Believe in the growth you’ve seen and felt.
We need revision, but we are not finished.

One Response to “An Open Letter to my AP Biology Students

  • Stephen Young
    8 years ago

    Whether they be the ones we offer to our students, or the ones we unexpectedly create for ourselves… discrepant events, when seen from the perspective of a growth mindset, are an unambiguous invitation to engage one’s struggle to grow at an even deeper level…. the solution always lies with going “deeper in”. Of course, that does not mean those moments can’t absolutely suck at the same time!! I have long since quit counting the number of times a new chapter in my own journey has begun with a resounding UGH!!! Somewhere along the way, I discovered a “pearl” embedded in each of those frustrating moments… empathy… for my students, and for my colleagues… empathy for the challenges and emotions they face when accepting my invitation to struggle… and empathy for those who aren’t quite ready to accept that invitation. I have learned that self-tolerance for the process of my own growth, and the effort it requires, exists in direct proportion to the empathy I have for others. Substituting empathy for rigor represents a counterintuitive proposition for how many teachers approach their job, as it was for me, but I would never go back. Escaping the illusion of what unexamined rigor promises is not a position of weakness, as is so often assumed. Empathy begets strength through persistence… empathy provides the means by which we can truly challenge others to embrace the struggle to grow beyond what they thought was possible. I really liked your use of the word “resolute”. I once participated in a workshop that was focused on dealing with the challenges that at-risk students present in urban schools that have 50% (or less) graduation rates… like where I was teaching at the time. Before he released us to the struggles of trying to incorporate what we had learned into our teaching, the person who lead the workshop left us with a great reminder that I have never forgotten: be ambitious enough to be patient. To me, “resolute” suggests the same sentiment… and in my book, for you to have arrived firmly in that “place” is a huge win… for you and your students!

    Stay resolute, and struggle well!