FETC 2017: Schools can broaden participation in computer science

High schools should recruit students from historically underrepresented groups for Advanced Placement courses, particularly AP Computer Science Principles, a College Board official said.

She offered some suggestions to recruit students into computer science classes, particularly girls and students of color, said Lien Diaz, senior director for AP Curriculum and Content Development for the College Board.

Advanced coursework and the number of students taking and passing AP and similar exams are showing up as indicators in state accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95.

Title I of ESSA explicitly allows the use of funds for college credit-bearing coursework, including Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, dual and concurrent enrollment, and early college high school, as well as related training, materials, transportation, and other costs of such programs.

However, most students in AP computer science classes are white and male. Only 18 percent of students taking an AP computer science exam were female, 4 percent were Hispanic, and even fewer were African-American students, Diaz said.

“We want to change that,” she said at the 37th annual Future of Education Technology Conference in January.

“More than half of jobs will require some computer science, so we need to get our students ready,” Diaz said. The College Board wants not only more students to take AP CSP but also at least some computer science instruction for all students by:

  • Making computer science more engaging and accessible.
  • Reaching students underrepresented in computer science.
  • Better preparing students for the job markets of today and tomorrow.

“You can’t really be a capable citizen in the world now without computer science,” said Owen Astrachan, professor of the Practice of Computer Science at Duke University, who presented with Diaz.

AP computer science classes prepare students for 130 careers and 48 college majors, according to the College Board’s website.

Less than 10 percent of U.S. high schools are offering any computer science, Diaz said.

Recruit diverse students

She offered some suggestions for teachers and schools to recruit students into their computer science classes.

  • Focus on the course being demographically representative of school populations. ED’s Office for Civil Rights has been comparing demographics of schools’ enrollment in advanced coursework to total enrollment.
  • Recruit clusters of students from groups that have been historically underrepresented in computing. Diaz suggested recruiting students, particularly girls and students of color, to take the course with a friend.
  • Extend an invitation to all students to enroll in CSP.
  • Encourage current students to showcase computing projects and to advocate for computer science in school events.
  • Reach parents by providing course information sheets in multiple languages.
  • Reach counselors by providing descriptions of the course creativity, communication, and collaboration.

AP CSP is a new course offered nationwide in 2016-17 in more than 2,000 high schools in almost every state in addition to AP Computer Science A. More than 1,400 teachers participated in more than 70 AP Summer Institutes before the launch of AP CSP.

The College Board wants not only more students to take AP CSP, but also at least some computer science instruction for all students, Diaz said.

Interest in computer science has increased at all levels, Astachan said, including ethics of artificial intelligence and articles about Siri, Alexa, and Cortana and other voice commands offering to diagnose computer users’ health.

Performance tasks require creativity

The AP CSP course requires Through-Course Performance Tasks for 40 percent of a student’s grade and the typical two-hour AP end-of-course exam of 74 multiple-choice questions, Astrachan said.

The first performance task requires students to create applications from ideas and to explore the impact of computing innovations. Students must:

  • Investigate a computing innovation using credible sources.
  • Create an artifact, such as a PDF, video, or audio, that provides information about the innovation’s intended purpose.
  • Write responses to describe its use, relationship to data, and effects.
  • Develop a computer program, with students having the flexibility to select the purpose of their programs.
  • Effectively implement programming elements from the language being used.
  • Submit their own individual program, although students can work collaboratively at various stages of the development process.

Dayna Straehley covers EL students, education technology, school improvement, and other Title I issues for LRP Publications.

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