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AP CS Principles Most Successful Launch to Date; Has Become a 'Mission' for College Board

AP CS Principles Most Successful Launch to Date; Has Become a Mission for College Board

A recent computer science addition to the College Board's Advanced Placement course offerings has seen wild success decades after the non-profit originally introduced the subject in its college-level high school offerings. In 2016-2017, when the AP Computer Science Principles (CSP) course was offered for the first time, it was intended as a precursor to a more intensive Computer Science A (CSA) course, which focuses on Java coding. That program, available since 1983, had grown to just under 58,000 students by 2016.

"Despite decades of efforts from the College Board and high schools across the country, there was very little momentum," admitted Trevor Packer, senior vice president of the AP Program. That was especially true, he added, "around the lack of female students in computer science courses." For example, he noted, in 1992, just 18 percent of AP CSA students were female. Twenty years later, there was "virtually no progress" on that representation. It had, he said, "the least representation of female students in any of the 30-plus Advanced Placement courses."

Then, when the Principles class was introduced, participation in CS classes jumped to almost 104,000 students, a 79 percent leap from the previous school year. The College Board said it turned out to be the "most successful launch of any course in AP history."

Just as importantly, noted President and CEO, David Coleman, the Principles course has been a draw for under-represented groups. According to 2017 program results, the number of female students enrolled in a CS-related AP course more than doubled, from 13,506 participants in 2016 to 27,395 in 2017. The same was true for Hispanic/Latino student participation, which grew from 6,368 to 14,860; and Black/African American students, which expanded from 2,049 to 5,057. Rural students in public schools saw doubling as well, rising from 4,898 students in 2016 to 9,997 in 2017.

During that same period, results on the AP CS exams also saw better-than-expected success. Overall, 74.5 percent of students who took the AP CSP exam scored a passing score of 3 or higher.

The number of female students earning 3 or higher on any CS exam in the AP portfolio more than doubled. In 2017 female students across all grades took 26,339 AP CS exams with the addition of AP CSP in the 2016-2017 school year, compared to 12,642 exams in 2016 when AP CSA was the only course available.

The number of Hispanic/Latino students passing an AP CS exam nearly tripled between 2016 and 2017. While 6,256 took AP CS exams in 2016, in 2017, that count had grown to 14,770.

And the number of African American students scoring 3 or higher also almost tripled between 2016 and 2017. Whereas 2,027 Black students took a CS assessment in 2016, that count had risen to 5,036 in 2017.

AP CS testing among rural students has also grown, more than doubling from 4,898 in 2016 to 10,135 in 2017.

What that growth represented to the College Board was a more diverse group of students gaining exposure to computer science and having the opportunity to broaden their understanding of how it might play into their future career. "For too long, we as a nation have talked about engaging more students — and a more diverse set of students — in computer science education. Despite the best intentions, such growth has been elusive," said Packer. "The eye-opening expansion in participation among female, rural white and minority students in AP Computer Science this year is a tribute to educators who have used this new AP course to deliver concrete college and career readiness opportunities to many more students"

The new course, developed with input and financial support from the National Science Foundation and other higher education partners, is now being offered in nearly 3,800 high schools around the country — 1,300 more this year than last year.

But there's virtually no limit to the number of schools that could add the CSP program to their own curriculum, asserted Packer, because there are so many subsidies available to get it up and running. As he explained, there are no fees charged by the College Board to perform the curricular review process in helping the school develop its syllabus. A number of organizations —, the NSF and Harvard University among them — have worked with the College Board to fund professional training for teachers, which typically runs about $2,000 per educator. Also, he said, schools, which are in charge of selecting their own course materials, could choose to work with freely available resources instead of buying textbooks. That leaves the cost of the technology.

Coleman added that "visionary states" interested in introducing AP CS across all of their schools would find a "willing" partner in the College Board. "This is a mission. We're devoted to this. When I say we're devoted, I mean much more so than is in our economic interest to do so. Let me make a clear invitation to governors, to legislators, to others, that if you will help us make this part of the life of schools, we will help find partners, we will help fund others — because frankly, we're very excited about the momentum."

Additional data related to AP courses and exams is available on the College Board's "Class of 2017" website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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