AP Computer Science A exam data points to progress as well as wide disparities that must be addressed

EricsonHeadshot.jpgJan. 25, 2017 -- More American students are taking rigorous computer science courses in high school, at least as measured by the number of students who took the Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science A (CSA) exam, which assesses computer science knowledge and object-oriented programming ability in Java. The number of high school students taking the AP CSA exam has more than doubled in the last five years from less than 25,000 in 2012 to more than 54,000 in 2016. However, access to AP CSA is still quite limited, as only 3,206 institutions passed the College Board audit to offer AP CSA in 2016 compared to 12,205 for AP Calculus AB. There are more than 36,000 secondary schools in the United States, so less than 10% of secondary schools offer AP CSA.
Barbara Ericson, ECEP co-PI and senior research scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Ga., has compiled and analyzed data since 2006 from the College Board, which administers Advanced Placement (AP) exams. While the number of exam takers has increased, the exam takers are mostly male and Caucasian or Asian. Only 23% of exam takers were female in 2016, only 3.7% were Black, and only 12% were Hispanic. While, the number of Black and Hispanic test-takers has been increasing (14% and 46% increases from 2015, respectively), the pass rates for those students are well below the 64% average pass rate.
Because the AP CS A exam data has been compiled and is available for each state, along with gender and race/ethnic breakdowns and pass rates, many organizations and states can use it to measure change and explore the effectiveness of interventions and policy reforms to broaden participation in computing.  A policy brief on California’s results is among the first to rely heavily on Ericson’s data this year.
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