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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Behind high school student’s perfect AP score, a tradition of academic achievement

Rena Cohen cried when she read she got a perfect score on her AP Statistics exam. When she received the news in a thin envelope from College Board on Oct. 14, she was in shock.

One of only three students to receive the honor nationally, the Eastside High School junior said she still can’t comprehend the weight of her accomplishment.

“I’ll just be going about my day, and I’m like, ‘Woah, this happened,’” the 16-year-old said.

But in Gainesville, Cohen’s feat isn’t an isolated incident. It has become a tradition for Gainesville public-school students to receive some of the highest standardized test grades in the nation, said Jackie Johnson, the director of communications and community initiatives for Alachua County Public Schools.

In 2015, a Buchholz High School student missed zero questions on the SAT. That same year, an Eastside student received the highest score, a 36, on the ACT, the principals from both schools said.

Mike DeLucas, the principal of Buchholz, said the school currently boasts 12 students who scored in the 99th percentile on the PSAT as juniors.

With magnet programs and advanced-placement classes at all seven Gainesville public high schools — along with dual enrollment programs at UF and Santa Fe College — the city’s school system has fostered an atmosphere of excellence, he said.

UF’s influence on the city’s high schools also expands to recent UF graduates becoming teachers, which “makes a difference” in students’ educations, Johnson said.

Gainesville’s AP exam passing rate has consistently been above the state and national levels, Johnson said. Citing a Washington Post list of the best high schools in the country, she said Gainesville ranks in the top 3 percent.

“It’s just certainly a tribute to the talent and the hard work of our students,” she said.

DeLucas also gave credit to the county’s rigorous coursework and the support of devoted parents.

“There are more outstanding, high-quality students today than there ever have been,” he said.

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For Cohen, an International Baccalaureate student deciding between studying law or journalism in college, the drive for a perfect score was sparked by her former teacher Adam Arduser, who promised his class a free dinner for anyone who could hack it.

Sometime next month, she and three of her classmates will take him up on that offer, she said. And despite not setting out to get the score, she said she’s happy Arduser could have “planted that little seed.”

“When I see someone else pursuing their passion, I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s amazing. I should pursue my passion, too,’” she said.

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