LAKE STEVENS — It was mid-September, a little more than a week into the school year, when computer applications teacher Karen Coulombe had her ninth grade students take a Microsoft Office Word 2013 certification exam.
She called it a “pre-test,” an exercise meant to give them an idea of how much work they would need to do to prepare to pass the exam. Out of 1,000 points, she expected most to score well below 100.
Mainly, she wanted her Cavelero Mid High students to become familiar with the test format.
“No one is going to certify,” Coulombe recalled telling her students. It was too early. They would get there, but history from her previous two years at the school had told her that they would need some time.
Bailey Griffin soon approached Coulombe: “I think I certified. Is that okay?”
Indeed, he had passed the certification exam with a score well over 700.
When Coulombe broke the news to the class that one of their peers had passed the exam, some students had a pretty good idea who among them could pass the exam with no real preparation. “Was it Bailey?” they asked.
They knew his prowess.
The next day, he passed a PowerPoint 2013 certification exam.
Within a month, he’d added Word Expert and Excel Expert 2013 exams to his certifications.
So by Oct. 24, he’d become what is known as a Certified Microsoft Master. It would be another three months before another classmate would earn that distinction.
To date, he has nine Microsoft certifications. He’s glad the school is adding a series of 2016 Microsoft certification exams next fall and envisions coming back to Cavelero to take more exams, though he’ll be enrolled at Lake Stevens High School by then.
He’ll probably knock out a few between now and the end of the school year.
“In preparation, our IT manager has loaded a workstation with Office 2016 as well as the 2016 exam software,” Coulombe said. “Bailey will use these to certify in 2016, soon. He hopes to earn all of them.”
More impressive than the volume of exams has been how efficiently he has learned to master the content.
Bailey, 15, decided to enter a state and national competition that tests accuracy and speed. The contest was for students 13 to 22 and he chose to focus on the Microsoft Excel 2013 certification area. He took and retook the exam. Two weeks ago, he had the third best time in the state.
On May 19, he decided to give it one last try, hoping to unseat whoever had the top time. Bailey completed the 50-minute spreadsheet project-based certification exam with a perfect score in 3 minutes and 5 seconds.
“Incredible,” his teacher said.
As a result, he has been invited to Orlando, Florida, in June to represent Washington in the Microsoft-sponsored U.S. National Championship.
For his part, Bailey is just thankful for the technology and opportunities that his school district and state provide him.
Schools get a waiver for the test fee, so he has practiced some exams again and again to whittle away precious seconds. The state Office of Superintendent Public Instruction offers exam voucher packs to schools for free to help prepare students for college and careers, Coulombe said.
The exams would be too pricey otherwise.
“All we get to work with is just baffling,” Bailey said. “It’s amazing how much technology can change in just a short amount of time.”
Bailey, a varsity swimmer at the high school, describes himself as a tactile learner who has always been interested in technology. He was the lead programmer for one of his school’s robotics teams and has built his own computer and has dabbled in making video games. He is interested in both computer and electrical engineering.
He likes the fact that he and classmates can learn at their own pace in the computer applications class.
As of May 21, Cavelero ranked third in the state with nearly 800 successful Microsoft certification exams taken. Roughly 170 high schools give the exams across the state.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.