University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Cash Rewards for Computer Science!

In The View from the OEP on October 18, 2017 at 1:13 pm

ARCSYesterday, the Arkansas Department of Education announced a program to drive more students to enroll and demonstrate success in a high-level computer science course. Students who complete an Advanced Placement Computer Science A course, and receive a score of 3, 4, or 5 on the associated AP exam are eligible for the cash reward!  According to the announcement, an Arkansas public school student can receive $1,000 for scoring a 5 on the exam, $750 for scoring a 4, and $250 for receiving a score of 3.

But the rewards don’t just apply to students!  Schools get money for each qualifying  score as well! Schools will receive $250 for each 5 on the AP CSA exam, $150 for each 4, and $50 for each 3.

Why is this important?

Advanced Placement Computer Science A is one of the highest-level Computer Science courses that has a quantitative assessment associated with it.  The course introduces students to computer science with fundamental topics that include problem solving, design strategies and methodologies, organization of data (data structures), approaches to processing data (algorithms), analysis of potential solutions, and the ethical and social implications of computing.

Advanced Placement (AP) exams are administered throughout the country in a wide variety of subjects. AP exams can serve as a consistent and nationally comparable measure of student content knowledge, and students are likely to be granted college credit for a score 3, 4, or 5 on an AP exam. In an earlier blog about AP, we mentioned Arkansas is one of a few states that provide AP testing at no cost to students.

AP CSA exam results in Arkansas compared to the country

In 2016, 46,480 public school students across the country completed the AP CSA exam, and 63% received a score of 3, 4, or 5.  In Arkansas, 298 public school students completed the AP CSA exam, and 29% of students received a score of 3, 4, or 5.  If the new incentive program had been in pace, 14 Arkansas students would have received $1,000, 29 students would have received $750, and 44 would have received $250.

Females made up only 27% of AP CSA testers nationally, so Arkansas is about average with 23% of AP CSA exam takers being female. African American students were 6% of those tested in Arkansas, and only 4% of the national pool.

Increasing Access to Computer Science

Arkansas hit the national computer science education stage in 2015 with Act 187, which  requires that public high schools and public charter high schools offer at least one computer science course at the high school level. As presented in the graph below, Arkansas has seen a sharp increase in the number of students enrolling in, and the number of districts offering computer science classes.  From 2004-05 through 2012-13, about 300 students from 15 districts enrolled in computer science courses.  In 2016-17, there are over 6,600 students from 225 districts enrolled in computer science courses.

CS trend


BUT- not yet equitable access to AP CSA

Most of these students are enrolled in classes other than AP CSA. In 2016-17, over 24% of computer science students were enrolled in “Essentials of Computer Programming”.  Comparatively, only 338 (5%) of computer science students were enrolled in AP Computer Science A in 2016-17, and only 33 school districts offered the class. When we consider what type of district provides access to AP Computer Science, we see that they are relatively large (4,500 students on average) and that more than half of the districts that offered AP CSA were in Northwest Arkansas, while it was offered in only 2 districts in Southeast Arkansas.  Please note that all districts are allowed to offer AP CSA, and decisions about which courses to offer to students are made by individual school districts.  If your district isn’t offering this course- we would love to know why!

In order to be eligible for the cash reward, students must enroll in the AP Computer Science A course. A student cannot just learn the material on their own and pass the test, so what if their school is one of the 87% of districts that does not offer the course?

According to ADE, there are six digital providers approved to teach AP CSA, but we are still checking into how a student gets signed up.

Our thoughts:

Here at OEP we like the idea of incentivizing students and schools to focus on computer science, but we are concerned that not all students have the same access to the course.  We fully support students taking the AP exam, as it is a stable measure of student knowledge than teacher-assigned course grades, which are inconsistent across the state.  We would like to see the program changed, however, so students who do not have access to the course or who prefer to learn the material independently could still be eligible for the reward.

The student-focused goal should be the learning, not the seat time.


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