Why does CS count towards high school graduation in Georgia?

July 21, 2011 at 10:10 am 2 comments

I see from the CSTA “Running on Empty” report that Georgia allows Computer Science courses to count as Science credit towards high school graduation.  What was the impetus behind this decision?  What impact did it have on local school districts?  Was it / has it been well received?  Has it been successful? 

I got this question in an email, and thought it was an interesting lead for a blog post.

Georgia only counts AP CS towards high school graduation, no other computer science classes.  It counts as a science, because the math lobby in Georgia is very strong.  I had a conversation with someone from the Mathematics Division in the Georgia Department of Education about a proposal (from Kennesaw State University here in Georgia) to count AP CS as a math class.  She was convinced that if students took computer science in their senior year, instead of calculus, then they would have forgotten all their math by the time that they got to college.  I did find out that students who took AP CS instead of Calculus for their fourth year math course did have a harder time getting into Georgia Tech — Colleges value Calculus very highly.

It wasn’t too much of a struggle to get AP CS to count in the first place, but it was a struggle getting it to continue to count.  Barb Ericson is really the expert on how this all happened. She was involved in getting Georgia to make AP CS count towards high school graduation (and only AP CS).  I was involved in helping her in getting it to count again after it went away.

CS in Georgia lies within the Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) division of the State Department of Education.  AP CS is CTAE’s only AP test.  CTAE has been interested in AP CS growing because AP’s are a measure of prestige of a division.  In order to get AP CS to grow, they have been willing to fund workshops to grow more AP CS teachers in the state.  Maureen Biggers (now at Indiana) pitched the idea of us doing workshops to grow AP CS. That’s how Barb got involved in teaching teacher summer workshops (and now directs our Institute for Computing Education@Georgia Tech, and how the Java version of Media Computation was produced. CTAE was interested in making AP CS count towards high school graduation in order to get more students to take the class.  Math said no (see previous comments on Calculus), but Science was willing, and thus, AP CS counted as a science in Georgia.

Then Barb got word one day from a teacher that AP CS no longer counted. She looked into it, and yes, the CTAE website now claimed that AP CS didn’t count. What happened?

Georgia has one public University System, with one Board of Regents.  The Board of Regents had refined their standards for admission to the system, and worked with the Georgia Department of Education to make sure that what GaDoE required for graduation met what the BoR was requiring for admission.  That makes sense — you want high school graduation requirement to match higher-education admission requirements. One of the particular areas of focus was the CTAE Division classes.  There was some serious concern in both the BoR and GaDoE that some of those classes shouldn’t really count as a “Science” course for the “fourth science class requirement” of graduation and admissions.   BoR decided that AP CS wouldn’t count anymore for admissions, and CTAE followed suit for graduation.

Fortunately for us, AP CS was never really sent out for full review by the BoR — the Committee simply decided it wouldn’t count.  They were right.  We wouldn’t have passed.  Whether a course counted as a “Science” was determined by sending the syllabus and course requirements to Science professors around the state.  “Will this class prepare a high school student for your intro class?”  Which Biology or Chemistry or Physics professors will say “Yes!” to that question, given the AP CS syllabus?  Maybe a few, but only a few.

At our request, the BoR took AP CS back under review — and then changed their minds, without sending it out for review.  To this day, I still don’t know how exactly it happened.  The BoR committee simply decided that CS would count as either a Math or a Science for admission into the University System of Georgia.  That was broader than the Department of Education was willing to go, but they did then say re-affirm that AP CS would count towards high school graduation, in fulfillment of one year of science requirement.

Has it been well received?  Has it been successful?  I’m not sure how to measure that.  AP CS test-taking was at an all-time high in Georgia in 2010.  The high school graduation requirement may have had something to do with that.  Has it hurt students, in terms of a lack of preparation for College-level Science?  I don’t know — I haven’t seen much evidence of that, but that isn’t to say that Georgia students’ Science performance is stellar.  I believe that the requirement has helped with getting kids into AP CS, but I don’t know by how much.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • […] I mentioned a while back that the Vint Cerf had expressed support for CS becoming part of the English Baccalaureate degree.  It’s been announced that CS does now count, but as a science.  Pretty much the same decision we made here in Georgia. […]

  • 2. AmyH  |  December 26, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Interesting article. Our daughter will graduate from GT in May – ISE. When she was a freshman, the only class that really stressed her was CS. She had taken 2 yrs of AP Physics, AP Calc, and Chem in HS. She was very well prepared for her freshman year, except for CS. It was completely foreign to her. We are requiring our son in HS to take AP CS. The only other option is to take a class through Coursera, but there has not been one available in the summer.


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