Eye-Popping Gains in Computer Science!

August 2, 2017

All too often, stories about education reform start with herculean efforts and end with anemic results. Fortunately, the story of at least one large national reform movement is poised to have a happier ending. The push to expand computer science in K-12 is already yielding impressive results.

According to early data from The College Board via Code.org, the numbers of high schoolers taking any Computer Science AP more than doubled between 2016 and 2017. The numbers for girls and students of color grew even faster--135 percent and 170 percent, respectively. The College Board's new test--AP Computer Science Principles--contributed most of those gains. 

AP CS Exams chart
Source: Code.org

Girls rose from roughly 18 percent to 27 percent of all test takers from 2013 to 2017, and students of color advanced from 12 to 20 percent over the same period. If we keep to this pace, we can close the gaps in gender and race/ethnicity in just over a decade. For ed reform veterans who are used to the snail's pace of change in education, those numbers are eye-popping.

Technology companies, visionary state leaders, and organizations like The College Board and Code.org have fueled this growth through their full-throated advocacy and support. Employers raised a hue and a cry about computer science in schools and joined other advocates in urging states to guarantee computer science classes every high school. The College Board created Computer Science Principles to introduce students to "the underlying principles of computation," and organizations like Code.org have helped prepare students for the test through new courses and teacher training.

CTEq just included two such courses in STEMworks, our honor roll of programs that stand up to rigorous review. Code.org's AP Computer Science Principles course "introduces students to the foundational concepts of computer science and challenges them to explore how computing and technology can impact the world." 

Computer Science Discoveries, also from Code.org, targets seventh- to ninth-graders, empowering them "to develop digital and physical projects using creativity and problem solving in a fun, collaborative environment." Both courses are filling a vacuum in our nation's middle and high schools, where computer science courses have been as rare as hen's teeth, even as the tech revolution has raged just beyond their walls.

Indeed, last year, CTEq released grim data on access to computer science classes by race and ethnicity::

Race determines access to computer science classes

Given the new data on AP participation, we have high hopes that these numbers will change for the better:

Of course, that won't be the whole story. CS advocates have a monumental task ahead of them, even as they expand access: They must train thousands more teachers to teach the new courses, and those teachers need to lift their students over the AP tests' high bar.

No easy task, but we're off to a good start.

Tags: computer science, women & girls, minorities