AP Computer Science sees big spike in participation


High school students — particularly girls and underrepresented minorities — had for years been slow to participate in AP computer science courses, but in the last year, the number of students taking the AP Computer Science exam has skyrocketed.

For example, 20,041 students took an AP Computer Science exam in 2007. That number reached 57,937 in 2016, and just one year later, participation increased 79 percent, with 103,797 students taking one of the computer science exams, according to a new report from the College Board, the nonprofit that oversees the AP Program.

The College Board attributes this quick uptick to the 2016 launch of a new course: AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP).

This particular course focuses on creativity, innovation and critical thinking. It appeals to a wider swath of students because it teaches computing principles that can be applied to interests and career paths well beyond those in the fields of STEM and computer science.

AP CSP has also helped get more females and underrepresented minorities into the computer science classroom — and, in time, hopefully the field as well.

In 2016, 13,506 girls were enrolled in AP Computer Science courses, but in 2017, that number more than doubled to 27,395. The College Board has reported similar trends for Hispanic/Latino students — from 6,368 students enrolled in 2016 to 14,860 in 2017 — and for African-American students — from 2,049 in 2016 to 5,057 in 2017. Students in rural areas have also been flocking to computer science more recently, with attendance more than doubling in the last year.

About 3,800 high schools now offer AP CSP, after an additional 1,300 schools worldwide moved to add the course in its second year. Two U.S. states — Nevada and Kentucky — have worked closely with the College Board to offer AP CSP to every one of their school districts.

With funding and support from The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the College Board plans to expand the AP CSP program to students in low-income and rural areas.