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CSTA Wisconsin Team Takes on Certification

Wisconsin is one of the few states to have a distinct license that is required for teachers of computer science courses in high schools. This license, created in the 1980s, helped Wisconsin develop a strong cadre of computer science teachers. However, over the past 20 years, as computer science was replaced by computer literacy in schools, the number of practicing computer science teachers in the state dwindled. Due to lack of demand, schools of education dropped their computer science licensing programs, leaving fewer and fewer qualified computer science teachers in high schools.

Why is licensure so important? Teachers in Wisconsin cannot teach computer science without this certification. When schools of education dropped their licensure program in the early 2000s they made it impossible for schools to hire new teachers to teach computer science classes. The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has a "guidance rule" which says that any teacher can teach an introductory computer literacy course, as long as that course does not contain more than 25% programming content. CSTA-WI has asked DPI to use this rule to allow any licensed teacher to teach Exploring Computer Science, since this course is at an introductory level and has less than 25% programming. However, the current licensing rules require a Computer Science license in order to teach AP CS A and, most likely, AP CS Principles.

With these problems in mind, the CSTA Wisconsin leadership reached out to members of the Wisconsin university CS community. We found individuals at Marquette University and UW-La Crosse who shared our desire to revive computer science education in Wisconsin and agreed to write a NSF CE-21 grant with us. We call our consortium PUMP-CS, which stands for Preparing the Upper Midwest for Principles of Computer Science.

PUMP-CS reached out to the DPI and asked them to partner in our CE-21 proposal. This was an important move because, when the NSF awarded us the grant, we were then able to ask the DPI to step forward to make change.

The DPI set up a meeting in December that included high-level DPI staff and the consultants responsible for Mathematics and Business and IT professional development. The DPI members in the group had already had internal discussions about the definition of computer science, why it is vitally important to teach it in grades K-12, and why a computer science license helps to promote quality instruction. In fact, they made copies of the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards and passed them out to everyone in the room!

Our team, led by Dennis Brylow of Marquette University and Tom Gendreau of UW-LaCrosse, presented information to the group about a wide variety of topics, including a definition of computer science, the state of computer science education in Wisconsin, and the goals of our grant.

The DPI team then explained that they wanted to help us update the Computer Science license requirements developed in the 1980s and put computer science at an equal level with other academic subjects. In other words, they wanted the new standards to define what teachers should know and be able to do and bring them into accordance with the NCATE teacher education standards developed by ISTE and CSTA.

The current political environment is highly charged with regards to the adoption of any kind of standards, so the DPI asked us to be patient and to work internally while they assemble a group of expert computer science teachers and teacher educators, to create the student CS standards and the teacher CS standards that would form the basis of all of DPI's further decisions. CSTA-WI is meeting this request but we are also looking at alternative licensure pathways. Current legislation would allow our PUMP-CS consortium to create an alternative licensure pathway for our cohort participants that can either go through a traditional school of education (such as Marquette University or UW-La Crosse) or can be implemented by the Wisconsin CSTA! We are carefully looking at this option as a means to get more current teachers a CS license without an unwieldy amount of time and money.

CSTA-WI members also found a provision in Wisconsin's licensing law that allows teachers with certain licenses to earn additional licenses in related areas by passing a content test. For instance, a teacher with a Chemistry license can earn a Physics license by passing a Pearson or Praxis test in Physics. This provision, however, was not being used for computer science because the Wisconsin DPI had not found a CS content test that they could use.

CSTA-WI pointed out to the DPI that other states had tests in place and we began to discuss how Wisconsin could utilize this forgotten provision. Once Wisconsin adopts Teacher Standards for CS, the DPI can approve a current national exam, or pay to have one created that matches the standards that Wisconsin adopts. While politically unlikely at this time, it is also possible that the DPI could modify the provision in the licensing rules to allow teachers with other certifications, such as Business Education or Technical Education, to use the test as a path towards Computer Science licensure.

The team that writes these standards has an important and far-reaching task, one that will affect computer science education in our state for years. CSTA-WI is using our member list to identify and recommend computer science content experts with extensive classroom experience. We are reaching out to these people and providing their names to the DPI in order to populate the committee with members who understand what it means to teach computer science.

Andy Kuemmel
CSTA-WI Chapter

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