AP Computer Science Principles diversifies computer science
When The College Board, the company that administers Advanced Placement (AP) courses and the SAT test to thousands of prospective college applicants each year, began developing the AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) course, they hoped not only responds to the growing need for computer scientists in the workforce, but also addresses systemic inequalities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
So far, the results show that it works.
In a study of high school leaving classes of 2016 and 2019, the College Board found that the AP CSP course attracted more diverse students. For the class of 2019, 68% of black students, 59% of Latinx students, and 60% of first-generation students enrolled in AP CSP were taking an AP STEM course for the very first time.
The data also showed that students who took AP CSP were more than three times more likely to major in computer science when they moved on to college. They are also twice as likely to enroll in AP CSA, a course focused on programming languages. These increases have been seen in all desired demographics, including first generation students.
“In 2008, the National Science Foundation (NSF) approached the College Board and said:”[computer science course] the numbers remain low, and they are mostly white and Asian males [who take it,]”Said Maureen Reyes, Executive Director of AP Placement at the College Board. NSF shared research that showed that a broader introductory computer science course could help attract more diverse students.
“AP CSP was designed to remove barriers that might have existed before,” Reyes said. “The only recommended prerequisite is Algebra I, and that’s by design. It’s about telling the students coming to this class, you already have the skills you need.
AP CSP, first launched in 2016 in 2,500 schools, teaches the basics of computer technology, the Internet, cybersecurity and the rules of computer coding languages. It teaches students to think creatively when solving problems.
Today, in 2021, more than 6,000 schools are offering the AP CSP.
Reyes said that the creativity involved in this course, its broad computer base, and the ability to collaborate and solve problems that students want to solve can be very appealing to a variety of students. But getting these students to enroll takes more than just a student’s intellectual curiosity: it takes dedicated marketing and recruiting to increase awareness of the AP CSP. Thus, The College Board has created resources and tips for recruiting.
“Half the battle is meeting the students where they are,” Reyes said. “If you’re looking to recruit more college girls, go to the girls’ basketball game. Help parents understand, provide brochures to students and parents with more information.
AP courses are combined into an exam which, depending on the student’s score, may offer college credits. While AP CSP has an exam, 30% of the grade is determined by a project that students work on throughout the class with a partner. Usually, students work together to create an application, just like the ones they access on their smartphones or computers.
“They are leading their own learning,” Reyes said. “Students are interested in what they are building. In other classes, children might not see how this applies to their lives. But in AP CSP, teachers help these students make real connections every day.
Stephen Hernandez teaches AP CSP at Our Lady of Lourdes Church and Catholic School for Girls in Miami, which received the College Board’s 2020 AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award. The award recognizes schools that help close the gender gap in computer science.
Lourdes Academy has decided to turn its AP CSP course into a one-semester course, giving more students the opportunity to immerse themselves in IT. So far, since 2016, more than 500 students have taken the course, and Hernandez said he knows many students who majored in computer science at college.
The type of code taught depends on the teacher. Hernandez teaches Python, one of the most popular coding languages used to build applications. But any coding language can be taught because, “if you can learn certain concepts in any programming, you understand the logic,” he said.
“Coding is a way of thinking. It’s problem solving. It’s not just for IT, it helps you look at things from a different perspective and rethink the way we organize ourselves, ”said Hernandez.
Katie Cauffiel attended the AP CSP when she attended Kennesaw Mountain High School in Georgia. She is now in her second year at Georgia Tech, majoring in Materials Science and Engineering and a minor in Computer Science.
“I had no computer experience and ended up liking it a lot,” Cauffiel said. “At first you don’t know anything about computers and computers, and you learn everything. It’s great for someone who has no experience. You’re not late, she said.
AP CSP, Cauffiel said, boosted his confidence. She was one of the few girls in her class, so after finishing the course, she started a computer club at her local girls-only college. She taught them Scratch, the same free block-based coding that she first learned in her AP CSP course.
“I realized it was really cool and the other girls needed to know how cool it was,” she said Cauffiel. “Often, computing has this connotation that it is for boys, the stereotypes of the programmer. I wanted to show the girls that it doesn’t have to be like that – it was fun, to show that IT can be something different.
Liann Herder can be contacted at [email protected]