How many schools will honor the AP CSP attestation?

November 27, 2015 at 8:13 am 14 comments

My Blog@CACM post this month is A Call to Action for Higher Education to make AP CS Principles Work. The Advanced Placement course on CS Principles becomes “real” this Fall 2016, and the first offering of the exam will be Spring 2017.  I expect that we in academic CS departments in the United States will soon be getting phone calls, “If we offer AP CSP and our students pass the exam, what will it count for at your school?”

When I talk to people who have worked on CSP about this issue, the question I get back in response is, “But there’s the attestation!”  Over 80 schools supported creation of the AP CS Principles course — see the list here.  The wording of the attestation varied by school, but makes these five points (taken from Larry Snyder’s page):

  1. It’s a substantive, important project — keep up the good work!
  2. We intend to give successful students credit at our school
  3. We intend to offer a comparable, content-rich course
  4. We intend to give successful students placement in a sequent course at our school
  5. [Optional] We are willing to have our school listed as supporting AP CS Principle

I don’t know.  My school currently has no plans for #2, 3, or 4, but we did sign the attestation.  (I’m working on coming up with a plan at Georgia Tech, but am not getting much traction.)  I don’t know about the status at other schools that signed the attestation.  I expect that Duke and Berkeley are going to follow-through, since they have done #3.  Some schools don’t give any or much credit for AP, so #2 may be out of the CS departments hands. I don’t know if there’s any legal requirement to follow through on the attestation.

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14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mark Ahrens  |  November 27, 2015 at 8:27 am

    I guess a related question is how many states will give HS students a math or science credit for taking AP CS. Also important

  • 2. kmoch  |  November 27, 2015 at 9:36 am

    While the university credit is always useful, there is also the advantage to the student of having taken one or more AP courses successfully regardless of the university’s position on giving credit. This is particularly useful the students at a high school that has very limited AP offerings. I just observed this situation where a university recruiter asked if the students had taken any AP courses – none had and the recruiter indicated that the junior in that group should seriously consider taking one for their senior year.

  • 3. Mike Clancy  |  November 28, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    I’m more optimistic about this. Here’s why. At Berkeley, an AP course can earn a student /placement/; this is awarded by the campus department. For example, a score of 3 or better on Calculus AB allows a student to skip Berkeley’s Math 1A. An AP course can also earn a student /credit/. This is awarded by the campus administration. For example, a score of 3 or better on Calculus AB earns 2.7 units of credit. I would expect that most large schools would be able to award at least one of credit or placement for a passing grade in AP CS Principles, which may be enough for a satisfactory answer to the “what will it count for at your school” question.

  • 4. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  November 29, 2015 at 2:44 am

    AP CS Principles will probably get “credit for non-specific class” at most colleges that give anything for it, as there are few college courses at that low a level. (The current AP CS corresponds to the lowest level CS course at most colleges.)

    I think that CS Principles is a fine high-school CS course, but pretending it is a college-level course is like pretending that remedial algebra is “college algebra”—it is a form of credit inflation.

    • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  November 29, 2015 at 3:21 pm

      CSP was designed to be a CS course for non-CS majors. That’s what Duke, Berkeley, and U-Washington developed on their campuses, to be CSP-equivalent. Be careful not to judge it in comparison with courses for CS majors.

      • 6. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  November 29, 2015 at 4:41 pm

        There are a number of courses “intended for non-majors” that are basically high-school classes. These courses generally get general education credit, but don’t count towards any major. These courses are quite different from courses like calculus, physics, and chemistry, for which the AP courses attempt to be the equivalent to the courses that many students require for their majors.

        Providing AP credit for courses that don’t count towards any major is not of much value to students, and is actively misleading for high-school students who think that they are getting a real college-level introduction to a subject. I think that the CS Principles course is a good high-school level course, but I wish it had been introduced as something other than an AP course. It is like having an AP course in algebra (which is also often offered as a “college level” course for non-STEM majors).

  • 7. gflint  |  November 29, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    I have to agree with gswp. I have looked at the CSP and have taken one of the on-line teacher prep courses. Maybe it is suitable for general credit but it seems a bit low for a college CS course. It seems more appropriate for high school sophomores or juniors. We do not offer APCS at my high school. We do dual credit courses. If a high school wants their students to get early college credit dual credit is the way to go. The college course is one semester, our equivalent is two. We do more in more depth than the college equivalent so it is the best of both worlds.

    APCSP just seems to be an attempt by College Board to fill a curriculum gap to make money.

    • 8. Mark Guzdial  |  November 29, 2015 at 3:24 pm

      I want to respond to the intentionality in your last sentence — the College Board didn’t create CSP to make money. They only did it because (a) the National Science Foundation funded it and (b) the attestation convinced them that it was worthwhile. I was involved in the original CS Principles commission, and my experience suggests that the College Board had to be convinced to do this.

      • 9. gflint  |  November 30, 2015 at 11:34 am

        I am never quite sure what to think when commercial outfits get involved in education and, since they make money with what they do, I would classify the College Board as a commercial outfit.

  • 10. Jeff Gray  |  November 30, 2015 at 2:12 am

    Coincidentally, this is a topic that I asked to be added for discussion at my department’s faculty meeting later next week.

    We have been offering a non-majors version of CSP since 2011 and it seems that now is the time to address the AP credit issue. Many of the students who will be taking the first course in 2016-2017 will start enrolling for the Fall in a few months. We view this as a way to help boost enrollment for CSP across our state if we can send a message out to our teachers saying that there are schools beginning to recognize the course and students can get AP credit even on the first exam offering.

    The current course that we offer is for non-majors. That will be the likely link to the AP for qualified scores. I am not sure that I can get my department colleagues to agree to count CSP as a course in our major requirement.

    There are about 10 national CSP Pilots who have been offering the course. Perhaps that collective can soon describe initial plans for how they will handle AP CSP qualifying scores.

    • 11. Mark Guzdial  |  November 30, 2015 at 8:28 am

      We were one of the pilots, Jeff. The course has only been offered once, and there are no plans to offer it again.

  • 12. Bonnie  |  November 30, 2015 at 8:32 am

    The problem is that most schools don’t have a course that corresponds to CSPrinciples for non majors. It is really just the old “breadth first CS” course that was pushed back in the 90’s – I can remember teaching a section of CS for nonmajors using Decker & Hirschfield’s book, which seemed pretty comparable. At the time, most nonmajors took a course in computing for nonmajors (it counted as a “quantitative course”, so it was a popular course). We usually offered several variants – typically either a course that focused on applications like spreadsheets, or a course on simple Basic programming. I tried the breadth first approach, but it never took off. The nonmajors were not that interested. They either wanted applications or programming.

    I think that CSPrinciples will face the same problem. People in other fields, both faculty and students, won’t see it as useful to them. At my current university, computing for nonmajors courses still adhere to the same type that I saw 20 years ago. Many departments, especially the business departments, require a course in Microsoft applications. And we get a lot of nonmajors coming to our first year programming sequence specifically to learn how to program. Their majors don’t require it, but they do it to better prepare for the job market. This semester, for example, about half my data structures class consists of actuarial science majors.

    • 13. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  November 30, 2015 at 12:58 pm

      I agree that faculty and students see little use for a broad intro course. That is why I view CS Principles as well designed for high school, but not for college.

      I’m the undergrad director for the bioengineering program here, and our majors are required to take intro to programming courses—with different courses for different concentrations, depending what sort of programming they are likely to do later on. For the biomolecular students, learning Python for scripting and format conversion is most important. For bioelectronics, C and assembly language for interfacing to sensors is most important. Another concentration is more likely to be producing phone apps or web games, so yet another approach is used (the CS department’s Java-first approach). None of these students have the time for something as unfocused and survey-like as CS Principles, even though none of them are going to become programmers in the traditional sense—programming is going to be only one of many skills they will apply in their jobs.

      Mark often talks about how many people need to do small amounts of programming in their jobs, and that we should be helping people get to that level of literacy. CS Principles isn’t doing that, and it won’t be accepted as a substitute for courses that do attempt to do that.

      I find it telling that Georgia Tech only offered the CS Principles pilot once and has no intent to offer it again—if the course was really valuable at the college level, it would not have been a one-off. (I suspect that the one time it was taught was grant-funded—a lot of things will happen with grant funding that are not sustainable if they need to be justified in a cost/benefit analysis.)

      • 14. Mark Guzdial  |  November 30, 2015 at 1:08 pm

        Totally true. I’ve proposed a plan where we put CSP on the books, so that we can give credit for it, then offer it to non-CS programs that might prefer CSP to our more programming-intensive MediaComp intro course. I can’t get our undergrad director nor the teacher who owns the CSP course here at Georgia Tech to respond to the proposal. There’s just not much interest. I suspect that it’s going to be a similar story at other universities, perhaps even more of those who offered pilots.


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