SIGCSE 2014: Collecting and Analysing Student Data 1, “AP CS Data”, Thursday 3:15 – 5:00pm (#SIGCSE2014)

The first paper, “Measuring Demographics and Performance in Computer Science Education at a Nationwide Scale using AP CS Data”, from Barbara Ericson and Mark Guzdial, has been mentioned in these hallowed pages before, as well as Mark’s blog (understandably). Barb’s media commitments have (fortunately) slowed down btu it was great to see so many people and the media taking the issue of under-representation in AP CS seriously for a change. Mark presented and introduced the Advanced Placement CS program which is the only nationwide measure of CS education in the US. This allows us tto use the AP CS to compare with other AP exams, find who is taking the AP CS exams and how well do they perform. Looking longitudinally, how has this changed and what influences exam-taking? (There’s been an injection of funds into some states – did this work?)

The AP are exams you can take while in secondary school that gives you college credit or placement in college (similar to the A levels, as Mark put it). There’s an audit process of the materials before a school can get accreditation. The AP exam is scored 1-5, where 3 is passing. The overall stats are a bit worrying, when Back, Hispanic and female students are grossly under-represented. Look at AP Calculus and this really isn’t as true for female students and there is better representation for Black and Hispanic students. (CS has 4% Black and 7.7% Hispanic students when America’s population is 13.1% Black students and 16.9% Hispanic) The pass rates for AP Calculus are about the same as for AP CS so what’s happening?

Looking at a (very cool) diagram, you see that AP overall is female heavy – CS is a teeny, tiny dot and is the most male dominated area, and 1/10th the size of calculus. Comparing AP CS to the others. there has been steady growth since 1997 in Calculus, Biology, Stats, Physics, Chem and Env Science AP exams – but CS is a flat, sunken pancake that hasn’t grown much at all. Mark then analysed the data by states, counting the number of states in each category along features such as ‘schools passing audit/10K pop’, #exams/pop and % passing exams. Mark then moved onto diversity data: female, Black and Hispanic test takers. It’s worth noting that Jill Pala made the difference to the entire state she taught in, raising the number of women. Go, Jill! (And she asked a really good question in my talk, thanks again, Jill!)

How has this changed overtime? California and Maryland have really rapid growth in exam takers over the last 6 years, with NSF involvement. But Michigan and Indiana have seen much less improvement. In Georgia, there’s overall improvement, but mostly women and Hispanic students, but not as much for Black students. The NSF funding appears to have paid off, GA and MA have improved over the last 6 years but female test takers have still not exceeded 25% in the last 6 years.

Why? What influences exam taking?

  1. The wealth in the state influences number of schools passing audit
  2. Most of the variance in the states comes from under-representation in certain groups.

It’s hard to add wealth but if you want more exam takers, increase your under-represtentation group representation! That’s the difference between the states.

Conclusions? It’s hard to compare things most of the time and the AP CS is the best national pulse we have right now. Efforts to improve are having an effect but wealth matters, as in the rest of education.

All delivered at a VERY high speed but completely comprehensible – I think Mark was trying to see how fast I can blog!