The Need for an Industry-based Java Exam: Guest blog post by Barbara Ericson

November 5, 2012 at 7:15 am 12 comments

Barbara has been facing a challenge in dealing with the State of Georgia lately that could impact other states. I offered my blog as a forum for raising the issues more broadly.

We have a real need in Georgia for a certification exam for high school students that is similar to the AP CS A exam in content and price, but is industry-based. Georgia is pushing career pathways and wants to have each student who completes a pathway take some type of exam where they can earn an industry certification. They claim this is due to the Perkins legislation that passed in 2006.

The purpose of the Perkins legislation is to develop students for “high skill, high wage, or high demand occupations in current or emerging professions” which certainly matches computing jobs. It is also intended to “integrate rigorous and challenging academic and career and technical instruction, and link secondary education and postsecondary education for participating career and technical education students”. It goes on to say that the goal is “designed to provide students with a non-duplicative sequence of progressive achievement leading to technical skill proficiency, a credential, a certificate, or a degree.” Since students can receive academic credit for the the Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science (CS) A exam from postsecondary institutions, the AP CS A exam should count as leading to a degree.

In Georgia, we have created a computing pathway which has 3 courses: Computing in the Modern World, Beginning Programming, and Intermediate Programming. The committee that created the computing courses had recommended that that pathway end with AP CS A instead of Intermediate Programming, and that the students pass the AP CS A exam to prove that they have learned the material. But, Georgia won’t allow the AP exam to be used as an end of pathway exam. I recommended the Oracle Java associate exam, but it is $300 and that is just too expensive. The AP exam is $89. Georgia has picked a Skills USA computer programming exam (see description here) that covers Java, C++, and Visual Basic. That exam doesn’t match the standards in the pathway courses, and we don’t want the teachers to have to teach 3 different languages. We are having a hard enough time getting them up to speed on Java, since most have no computer science background. The Career and Technical Education Department in Georgia thinks it is preparing kids for programming jobs right out of high school, which is not realistic. Students will need to at least an associates degree if they want a career in computing.

Georgia is poised to force every rising 9th grader to pick a career pathway. They are currently thinking about changing our computing courses to match the Skills USA test, since they can’t find a cheaper test that gives industry certification in Java. This is a huge problem. We have been working for years to improve computing in Georgia, and this would reverse many of our gains. We have introduced interesting and engaging courses using Scratch, Alice, Media Computation in Java, CS Unplugged, Greenfoot and App Inventor. Teachers would have to go back to boring, cookbook programming to get through 3 languages in 3 courses.

The Georgia DOE says is not going to change to allow an AP exam as an end of pathway exam. They claim they can’t since their efforts are part of the Race to the Top grant that Georgia won. They interpreted the Perkins legislation to mean that students must earn an industry certification. Other states may also use this same narrow interpretation and could end up in the same situation. This could be a major road block to the National Science Foundation’s plan to prepare 10,000 teachers (CS10K) to teach the new AP CS Principles course by 2016.

I recommend that Oracle create a new certificate only for high school students that is based on the AP CS A exam material and costs about $89. It could be a subset of the Java Associate material that matches the AP CS A material (extra topics to remove are: Java Development Fundamentals, Java Platforms and Integration Technologies, Client Technologies, Server Technologies).

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12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. dennisfrailey  |  November 5, 2012 at 7:49 am

    My initial reaction was that perhaps the IEEE Computer Society could do something to help based on work we are doing to develop certifications for less developed countries. As chair of the professional development committee, I’m resaonsible for these efforts. We already have the CSDA and CSDP, intended to measure the skills of young software development practitioners and based deeply on the needs of industry. The CSDA is aimed at recent or budding college graduates and the CSDP at practitioners with experience. We’re worling on more entry-level concepts to support less developed countries An extension to high school students would not seem so out of line. However after readung further into Barbara’s essay I see a lot of potential hitches. Would Georgia consider the IEEE-CS to be a valid source for an “industry exam”? Do they really want industry input (their current plan certainly doesn’t suggest this)? Would there be any source of funding for an effort like this (developing an exam takes a lot of work)?

    If there’s a way we might help, please contact me.

    Reply
  • 2. alfredtwo  |  November 5, 2012 at 11:23 am

    SkillsUSA has traditionally been focused on career/technical schools. Most of these, at least the several I have been involved with, do teach multiple programming language as part of a three or four year curriculum. No one does it in a single semester or even single year.

    As for industry developing an exam the problem is one of cost/benefit. Most industry certifications are based around technologies not broader concepts which is what you want for schools. The Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) exams might work in cost and applicability (http://www.microsoft.com/es-es/learning/certification/mta.aspx ) but the choices there are C# or Visual Basic. C# being very close to Java but there would still be something of a learning curve. I have known C# students who have taken and passed the APCS A exam without a Java course but those were pretty computer savvy kids.

    Coming back to the exam, what you need is a concepts based exam that if language focused avoids specific technologies ancillary to the language that teachers are not prepared to teach. The goal of most company developed exams is to push test takers to those very technologies. Industry certifications are as much a marketing tool as anything else. That is the incentive companies have to develop them.

    I love the idea of the industry groups (IEEE Computer society and/or ACM) developing an exam or even a set of exams. They have the people who could do it but the question is do they have the other resources (spelled money) to do so.

    Reply
  • 3. Cecily  |  November 5, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    Mark,

    Maybe this will help– maybe not! In Utah, they seem to have solved this problem with the “Skill Certification Test”. Google: “skills certification test” should be top link, ends in schools.utah.gov. These are tests that I “think” are written by teams of teachers with release days to write items, and then pooled together in order to create the test that students take at the end of the year. The test scores are combined with teacher attestations that students have particular skills(e.g. open, edit, save a document, etc.), and if the students reach a certain threshold, the schools get more money/more WPUs. This was all funded by some grant, but I am not sure which grant or program. If you are interested, please e-mail me or set up a time for a phone call or reply to this post before Thursday, and i can try to fill you in more.

    Reply
    • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  November 6, 2012 at 9:18 am

      Cecily, I think we’re talking about something different. Georgia Dept. of Ed wants an industry certification to be at the end of a pathway. (Barb said that one DoE official told her that, “The AP is done. It’s going to be meaningless. Everyone is going to go after industry certification.”) A test created by teachers, or around computer-use skills, isn’t going to meet the objective for a CS pathway.

      Reply
  • 5. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  November 5, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    It may be cheaper to replace the brainless Georgia bureaucrats who are insisting on an “industrial” test than to create such a test.

    Reply
    • 6. Mark Guzdial  |  November 6, 2012 at 9:16 am

      Cheaper, yes. Easier? Not so clear.

      Reply
  • 7. Rob St. Amant  |  November 6, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Wow, that seems like a real challenge. I think Georgia legislators are making a category error. On this Web site there’s a list of CTAE programs for which standards are in place:

    Agriculture Education, Architectural Drawing and Design, Automotive Service Technology, Business and Computer Science, Broadcast/Video Production, Construction, Culinary Arts, Early Childhood Education, Engineering & Technology, Graphic Communications, Healthcare Science, HVACR, Marketing, Sales & Services, Metalworking

    Business and Computer Science? I don’t see, for example, Architectural Drawing and Design and Architecture, or Automotive Service Technology and Mechanical Engineering, or Healthcare Science and Medicine. I don’t know what they’re thinking, though.

    Reply
  • 8. Dennis J Frailey  |  November 6, 2012 at 10:29 am

    In dealing with politicians, I’ve found that there is often an advantage to having something that comes from a respected, neutral source such as a technical or professional society. Something sponsored by a company will tend to generate political opposition. So an ACM or IEEE-sponsored test might be the only way to do something sensible.

    Reply
    • 9. Mark Guzdial  |  November 6, 2012 at 9:38 pm

      In Georgia, the education administration values industry certification, even if it comes from companies like Skills USA. IEEE Industry Certification (in some flavor) might be a solution here, but folks at Oracle are engaging with Barbara now to try to come up with a solution.

      Reply
  • 10. Mehran Sahami  |  November 6, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    Alison Derbenwick Miller is the Vice President of Oracle Academy, and I’ve been chatting with her recently about ways in which Oracle can be more involved in engaging kids in CS education. I’m not sure if you already know Alison, but I’d be happy to provide an introduction if you think it might help with respect to having Oracle help develop a new certification exam for high schools.

    Reply
    • 11. Mark Guzdial  |  November 6, 2012 at 7:57 pm

      Thanks, Mehran. Barb has been exchanging several email with Allison over the last few days.

      Reply
  • [...] Exactly the same issue as in Georgia: Perkins funding will pay for hardware, so career prep has the computers, and it gets computer [...]

    Reply

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