University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Computer Science + AR = Success!

In The View from the OEP on August 28, 2019 at 11:18 am

Students in Arkansas are getting a lot more opportunities to enroll in a Computer Science course in high school, and an increasing number of students are taking advantage of those opportunities!  In today’s blog, we review how this change came about, what types of students are benefiting, and suggest some next steps to keep the momentum going.

The computer science initiative in Arkansas began in earnest in February 2015, when Governor Hutchinson signed Act 187, which required all public high schools to offer computer science education beginning in 2015-16.  Since then, student enrollment in CS classes has taken off, climbing to over 6,300 students in 2017-18 (the most recent year for which data are currently available).

Figure 1. Computer Science Enrollment in Arkansas, 2007-08 through 2017-18

CS_enroll

Students weren’t required to take the CS courses, so what led to this rapid increase in enrollment?   Some schools had already been offering computer science courses prior to the law, but fewer than 900 high school students were enrolled in such courses in 2014-15.  This enrollment was reflective of a recent increase as fewer than 250 were enrolled annually prior to 2013-14. We expect there was some unmet demand prior to 2015-16, but the results are impressive!

We suggest the increased enrollment is the outcome of clear direction and ensuring resources for success. The state has taken two key steps in the process:

1) Incentivize teachers to get certified to teach CS courses.  With each high school required to offer CS, Arkansas needed a lot more CS teachers!  The state provided money for teacher certification (Praxis reimbursement and teacher stipends of up to $2000). According the Anthony Owen, Chief State STEM Officer and state director of Computer Science Education, currently over 200 teachers are fully certified and nearly 600 others are in the process.

2) Incentivize students to enroll in CS courses. Just because a class is offered doesn’t mean students will want to enroll. There are many other courses competing for their time.  The state allowed a CS course credit to work as a substitute for the 4th math or 3rd science course required for graduation, allowing students to take something else off their plate so they could enroll in CS. In addition, the state offered financial incentives for students to take an advanced CS course.  The AP Advanced Computer Science A initiative awards students between $250 and $1000 for passing the AP Computer Science A exam. The exam (like all AP exams) is free for Arkansas students to take, and they are guaranteed to get credit at all state Universities for a passing score.

It sounds simple, but such clear direction and aligned resource allocation is rare. So teachers are teaching CS, and students are taking CS, but we wondered, has the initiative changed the type of students engaging with the content?

In 2007-08, students who were enrolled in computer science courses in Arkansas were generally white (76%), not economically disadvantaged (76% non-Free/Reduced Lunch), and male (70%).  Figure 2 displays enrollment by race statewide (top) and in computer science courses (bottom).  We need to consider demographics of the state as a whole to provide context to any changes we might see in CS enrollment.

Racial Enrollment Changes

As presented in Figure 2, there are differences between the statewide racial demographic percentages and the racial demographic percentages of students enrolled in CS courses.  In addition, the CS demographics had shifted somewhat over time.

Figure 2. Enrollment in Arkansas Statewide and for Computer Science Courses by Race, 2007-08 through 2017-18

race_legend

Statewide Enrollment by Race

School_Race

Computer Science Enrollment by RaceCS_race

  • White students consistently make up the greatest share of CS students, and generally make up a greater share of CS enrollment than of the overall school population statewide. White students accounted for 68% of CS enrollment in 2017-18 compared to 63% of school enrollment overall.
  • Black students make up about 16% of the CS enrollment, which is slightly less than the 21% share of overall student enrollment. While enrollment share in CS declined in 2009-2013, recent years reflect an increased percentage of CS enrollment.
  • Hispanic students account for about 10% of CS enrollment, which is close to the 12% share of overall enrollment. The Hispanic enrollment share in CS courses has declined somewhat since the CS initiative began, likely due to increased enrollment in more rural school communities.
  • Asian students’ share of CS enrollment has fluctuated over time, ranging from 12% to 4% of students.  This is slightly greater than the group’s 2% representation in the statewide school enrollment.  Similar to Hispanic enrollment, Asian enrollment share in CS courses has declined somewhat since the CS initiative began, likely due to increased enrollment in more rural school communities.

Economically Disadvantaged Enrollment Changes

We do see an increase in the enrollment of economically disadvantaged students since the initiative began in 2015-16.  As presented in Figure 3, 49% of the students enrolled in CS in 2017-18 were participating in the Free/Reduced Lunch Program (a proxy indicator of poverty), which is an increase of 19 percentage points over 2007-08 participation rate. In addition, this has halved the gap between statewide FRL rates and CS enrollment rates from 17 percentage points in 2007-08 to 8 percentage points in 2017-18.

Figure 3. Enrollment in Arkansas Statewide and for Computer Science Courses by Participation in Free/ Reduced Lunch Program, 2007-08 through 2017-18

CS_FRL

Gender Enrollment Changes

When we examined CS enrollment by gender, we find that females consistently make up about 27%-30% of CS students, although about half the students in the state are females.   As presented in Figure 4, the ratio of females in the CS courses in the state has remained relatively unchanged since 2007-08.

Figure 4. Female Enrollment in Arkansas Statewide and for Computer Science Courses, 2007-08 through 2017-18

When we examined CS enrollment by gender, we find that females consistently make up about 27%-30% of CS students, although about half the students in the state are females.   As presented in Figure 4, the ratio of females in the CS courses in the state has remained relatively unchanged since 2007-08.  The under-representation of females in CS is not unique to Arkansas, and work is being done across the nation to increase female participation in STEM.  Arkansas educators are working too, for example, incorporating CS into Family and Consumer Science courses by having students code in embroidery machines!

Figure 4. Female Enrollment in Arkansas Statewide and for Computer Science Courses, 2007-08 through 2017-18

CS_Females

When we examine female participation in AP Computer Science A exams, we find that Arkansas had a higher ratio of females taking the exams than the nation as a whole!  As presented in Figure 5, the percentage of AP CSA exams taken by females has been steadily increasing, and in 2017-18, 27% of Arkansas participants were female (compared to 24% of exam takers in the US overall).

Figure 5. Advanced Placement Computer Science A Exams, Percentage Female, 2007-08 through 2017-18

AP_CSA_Females


So, the data shows some positive student outcomes from the Computer Science initiative- increased enrollment overall, increased participation by economically disadvantaged students, and above average AP exam-taking by female students.  What are the next steps to keep the momentum going?

1) Make sure CS stays important to schools: Arkansas wrapped computer science into the states ESSA school accountability plan,  ensuring that CS stays important to schools.  Schools get points for students that have taken CS, and for students taking AP courses (including CSA).

OEP Suggestion: Enhance the benefit by rewarding schools for industry-recognized certifications and passing scores on AP exams.  These indicators of measurable success demonstrate that students aren’t just enrolling in CS, but are actually mastering meaningful content.

2) Make sure CS is actually beneficial to students. While we can see increased enrollment, we don’t yet know what students are actually DOING with the CS knowledge they are getting.  Anthony Owen indicated that the state is working towards an industry certification program, which is key.  These certifications are meaningful outcomes for students that they can take directly into the workforce, and will be an economic driver for the state.

OEP Suggestion: Keep tracking the data and doing research.  The state, and the students, have made significant investments in CS.  We need to learn more about what really helps students.  Are students taking multiple classes?  How many are getting certifications and/or going to college for CS? For example, about 1/5 of students are taking the courses online- we need to determine if the instructional effectiveness is different than face to face instruction.  Keep an eye on gender enrollment- are there schools where more females or underrepresented races are more likely to enroll?  Can we determine what creates that culture?

3) Make sure there are viable pathways for students to continue CS after high school. How are businesses and colleges preparing for these students?  There is lots of knowledge coming their way, so we need to help them capitalize on it!  The state requires that colleges assign credit for a passing score on AP computer science, but how are our post secondary schools going to continue to challenge them?  How can we create partnerships with businesses to ensure we reap the benefit from their CS experience?

OEP Suggestion: Keep up excellent communication and forward planning.  The website for CS in AR has lots of information and does a great job of getting the word out about what is going on.  With continued focus, we will be able to model the success of the CS initiative beyond high school enrollment.

 

 

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