By Jef Rietsma
Vicksburg High School senior Owen Bishop joined an elite group of students worldwide: He nailed a perfect score on the Advanced Placement Research test.
His perfect score on the AP examination put him at a level achieved by fewer than 2 percent of his peers around the world.
The 17-year-old Bishop explained what it all meant and how the test was the culmination of a two-year process.
“AP Research is part of a two-year program called AP Capstone and in the first year, you do two small research projects that basically involve looking at other papers on a specific topic,” Bishop said. “In the second year, it’s a full-year thing where you pick a topic and you have your own method for it. You have to do your own data analysis and present to a review board … it’s pretty much a mini-thesis.”
Bishop, who has been taking AP-level classes since his freshman year, spent his junior year working on the task. He explained the research topic he explored.
“I was seeing if there was a significant difference between the funding received at Michigan intermediate school districts that had the greatest increase in graduation rates and those that had the greatest decrease in graduation rates,” he said. He noted that the topic was chosen after spending several weeks earlier in the school year exploring potential topics. “My teacher, (Amanda) Szczesny, was really helpful in guiding us toward a topic.”
Fortunately for Bishop, securing data he needed to follow through on his research was readily available. He said the state of Michigan and its Department of Education provided significant amounts of information and statistics on a county-by-county basis. The state funding numbers, he said, were actually easy to get.
“The issue, however, was graduation rates. They don’t really track graduation rates of the whole ISD, they do it for each of the districts within the ISD,” he said. “So, it took a while but what I had to do was sum up all the students and all the students who graduated, then do the division. That took an entire weekend.”
Several steps that required an extensive amount of data analysis followed. He studied data from a 10-year period, 2009 through 2018, and, in the midst of his research, found it most helpful to switch from studying raw graduation rate numbers to average change over the period of a decade.
Once his work was finished, Bishop presented to a panel of school officials. It was the culmination of a two-week process during which the focus was perfecting the verbal presentation and accompanying slide show.
“Essentially, what I found was there wasn’t a significantly different amount of funding going to the most or least successful,” he said, noting his definition of “most” and “least” were the top five and bottom five counties and their respective ISDs.
Bishop said there are two levels of scoring on the AP exam. The first is based on the presentation, on which he received a perfect score, and the second from a panel of out-of-state, AP-sanctioned graders. Bishop said he found out, via email, about his perfect score from the AP panel a few months ago.
Bishop said he recognizes the magnitude of his accomplishment and conceded he was more worried about the presentation process more than any other aspect.
“I mean, I knew I had pretty solid data, so I felt good about that,” he said. “But I didn’t expect my paper to do that well.”
VHS Principal Adam Brush said there’s no doubt Bishop falls into an elite group. Brush said the district offers 18 AP-level courses, which is considered a lot for a district of Vicksburg’s size. He said learning of Bishop’s odds-defying accomplishment was not a surprise.
“To find out he received a perfect score, actually, was not a surprise… I know Owen well enough to say that,” Brush said. “But what did surprise me was finding out he is one of just 375 people in the whole world who had a perfect score, that was just amazing to me. That’s insane. I had never heard of that before.”
Brush said Bishop has already passed 11 of the district’s 18 AP-level exams. Bishop is currently enrolled in five AP-level classes.
Bishop plans to attend either Purdue University or Michigan Tech University. He said he intends to study aerospace engineering. He is currently dual-enrolled at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. At VHS, meanwhile, he is in the robotics club and is a band member. He also oversees a local Dungeons and Dragons group.