New results for AP CS in Georgia, with puzzles

December 10, 2010 at 10:21 am 5 comments

I mentioned a few weeks ago that the 2010 AP CS results are out.  Our external evaluator, Tom McKlin of The Findings Group, just sent us his report on trends in Georgia (and comparisons regionally and nationally) for AP CS, since “Georgia Computes!” started.  The results are positive, but include some fascinating puzzles.  Here’s his summary:

1.  The total number of schools passing the AP CS audit is down from previous years, but the total number of AP CS students is up.

2.  Georgia has more female AP CS test takers than any previous year going back to 2003.

3.  Georgia has experienced more dramatic gains in the number of students taking the AP CS exam than any other southern state.

4.  There has been a steady increase in the number of women taking AP CS exams nationwide.  I would expect that the Taulbee numbers should start to reflect that trend.

5.  Students who take the AP CS exam are ten times more likely to major in an area related to CS.

6.  Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee made dramatic gains in the number of women taking the AP CS A exam.  What is happening in these states?

I won’t address all of these points, nor even all of the puzzles in these data (e.g., Tom’s question in point #6). Let me get the bragging out of the way, so that I can get to the puzzle that I’m interested in.  Check out these overall numbers (just AP CS Level A, to be completely honest).  “Georgia Computes!” started in 2006.  I think one can see an effect there.

That’s a pretty amazing rise in Georgia exam numbers.  (Notice that our CAITE BPC Alliance colleagues in Massachusetts have reason to be pleased, too!)

Here’s one of the puzzles that I find interesting: After two years of essentially flat Black student performance in 2008 and 2009 (e.g., only about 10% of Black students who took the AP CS Level A test passed), we had a sudden jump this last year.  We had a drop in Hispanic student pass rate, but in keeping with historical trends.

But here’s the puzzle that I’m really struck by: With fewer classes, we’re getting more students taking the test!  If you simply divide the number of test-takers by the number of classes that pass the College Board’s audit for AP CS nationally, you’ll see that the yield of test-takers is low.  What could explain these results in Georgia?

I’ve been discussing these results with some of the folks here at the CECC meeting with me.  The best explanation that I’ve heard yet for both results is simply maturation.  Maybe this kind of effort (of Barb and her Institute for Computing Education and all of “Georgia Computes!”) takes time to develop to the point of measurable results (e.g., for the teachers to learn how to teach AP CS in the classroom, not just in the workshops).  Eventually, each teacher in each classroom becomes more effective and more productive, resulting in more students taking the test and more students passing.  It’s important for us to tease out what’s going on here, because if we could replicate it, it might offer a margin of safety for the CS10K effort.  We could still have enough test-takers for the new AP CS:P exam, even without 10K teachers in 2015, if each teacher has higher test-taking yield than we’ve seen in the past.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Janet Kolodner  |  December 10, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Another reason for the puzzling results could be that it is easier to help fewer teachers be excellent than to help more. Also, some of the less excited or less able teachers are probably opting out (which is why their schools don’t have CS anymore). My guess is that it is a combo of all the proposed explanations.

    This is all really interesting, and kudos on the great Georgia results.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  December 10, 2010 at 10:32 am

      Thanks, Janet! Another possible reason for the declining number of classes is the really lousy economic climate. We have had some wonderful teachers who have been laid-off due to cut-backs. (Some have been hired back, but with a deep distrust of their administration.) You may be right that the teachers who are persisting are also excelling.

  • 3. Alfred Thompson  |  December 10, 2010 at 10:41 am

    I believe that better teachers lead to both more interest in taking the course and a higher pass rate. No I don’t have solid research to back it up but what I see in my travels is that teachers who excite students have more students and better performing students. I think you will find this in all subjects by the way.
    I suspect that Georgia Computes! is also helping teachers feel more supported and more confident in themselves. Support and confidence in a teacher goes a long way towards encouraging students to feel the same about what they are learning.
    The decline in numbers of teachers is, as you suggest, quite likely budget and cutting they newer teachers. It is also, in too many cases, adminitrators deciding that CS is not core to the curriculum and so a good place to cut.
    BTW in meetings with educators in MA I enjoy telling them that they really need to learn from and try to keep up with GA. Once they look into it they see that Georgia is really a leading edge state in CS education.

  • 4. Hélène Martin  |  December 10, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    This is really exciting! Congrats to you, Barb, and all the teachers involved.

    AP CS can be such thrilling course for students when it’s taught well — they get to build useful products that they can show off to their friends, wow! Students can be great advocates and do really amazing marketing if they believe in a course. It sounds like one of the things Georgia Computes! is doing is getting CS in the ‘must take’ course list. That is a HUGE achievement.

  • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  December 10, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    I heard another interesting theory for the decreasing classes and increasing test-takers phenomenon. It might be that more students are taking the test without having an audited class — teachers may be teaching AP CS content without being audited, and students might be taking the test without taking the course.


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