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AP CS: Progress But Is It Enough?

The College Board released its 4th Annual Report to the Nation for 2007 yesterday and the there are some very positive signs, but I am not sure they are positive enough.

After significant declines in the number of students writing the computer science A and AB exams in 2003, 2004, and 2005, it is good to see that the upward trend that began in 2006 is continued in 2007, with the number of CS text-takers increasing from 19,601 last year to 20,113 this year.

Even more importantly, AP CS has made some positive gains in the representation of both young women and minority students among the 2007 test-takers. Many of us in the computer science field have been profoundly concerned about the under-representation of young women and minority students in our discipline and we are thrilled to see an improvement in both these areas. The increases are not large, but they do indicate that organizations such as CSTA are making progress with their equity outreach efforts.

The number of females taking the computer science A and AB exams jumped 2% from 15% in 2006 to 17% in 2007. The percentage of Latino and Hispanic students (among the worst represented considering the overall size of this population in the U.S.) increased from 6.2% to 6.5% and the percentage of Black and African American students show a similar improvement from 3.4% to 3.7%. Unfortunately, however, even these gains represent less than an average of one additional student per group in each state.

While these increases in no way indicate that the challenge of making the discipline and the industry more representative have been won, they are an sign of progress. So many of us have been working to find ways to better engage underrepresented student populations: by providing better information about careers, providing more equitable access to AP courses for students, and by finding ways to teach that better engage all students. We have a long, long way to go, but it is so good to see that our efforts are beginning to have a concrete, measurable impact, even if it is not enough.

Are there things happening in your school or district to support the improved participation of young women and minority students? Please share your successes and failures with us. This is one challenge we are all going to have to face together if we are really going to make computer science more equitable.

Chris Stephenson
CSTA Executive Director

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