In unprecedented move, third-party providers expand availability of AP computer science


Historically, the College Board has been the sole designer and provider of Advanced Placement, or AP, frameworks in high schools across the country. When considering the AP Computer Science Principles course for a 2016 launch, however, Maureen Reyes, executive director of the AP Program, knew that something different had to be done.

“We knew that there wasn’t a large number of CS teachers in schools,” Reyes told EdScoop, “and we knew that we needed a community of partners and providers. There was a ton of great work within the community that was already happening, and we were able to leverage that to offer support to teachers and schools.”

Unlike many other AP subjects, where teachers already handle non-AP-level courses on the same topic — like biology or physics — an AP Computer Science course often requires hiring a new teacher or completely re-training a current one. This presented a barrier most schools would be hard-pressed to overcome alone, so the College Board decided to enlist the industry to help.

The results of this experiment have been undeniable. At the end of February, the College Board published a report showing that the number of high school students participating in AP Computer Science had surged. The number of girls enrolled in CS courses more than doubled — from 13,506 in 2016 to 27,395 in 2017 — while the number of Hispanic/Latino students and African-American students enrolled in 2016 also more than doubled in 2017. More than 3,800 high schools currently offer AP CSP, with 1,300 more expected to offer it in the coming year.

So, how exactly did they do it?

“We endorsed providers of any other [computer science principles] curriculum and assessment,” Reyes said. The National Science Foundation (NSF) funded some providers — Beauty and Joy of Computing out of the University of California, Berkeley; Computer Science Principles out of Connecticut’s Trinity College; and, to name a few — and most offered free professional development and curriculum, Reyes said. As a result, teachers were able to access the entire curriculum and lesson plans for an AP CSP course through a free download.

Thinking more broadly

The Computer Science Principles course — which takes a multidisciplinary approach by introducing students to broad concepts and applications of computer science — was first conceived and funded by a grant from the NSF, which knew that something needed to be done to solve the growing gender and race disparities in computer science.

Reyes said the NSF approached the College Board with the idea for a new kind of computer science course — one that would engage a larger audience in high schools than the other existing course did. Unlike the course the NSF wanted to roll out, the original AP course focuses heavily on Java programming and devotes little time to the creative aspects and broad uses of the subject.

The College Board — Reyes included — agreed, but the nascency of STEM education in many high schools, especially in rural and underserved areas, made a standard roll-out of the new course incredibly difficult.

That’s where the providers came in to help.

“I would say that more than half of the AP CSP teachers in year one used an endorsed provider,” Reyes said. “Typically, AP teachers build their own curriculum. They look at our curriculum framework, they look at the requirements and they build their own curriculum and submit their syllabus to us. But now, they have a number of providers to choose from.”

Most schools and teachers have access to a local provider, Reyes said, but larger providers have also been endorsed by the College Board. Reyes likes to think of the endorsements as “invitations” to schools to get involved with computer science.

“This really opened the door for those schools to be able to take advantage of these resources and all of the support that’s out there for AP CSP,” she said.

Versatility in training

Teachers have the option of training online, in person or through a combination of the two. Scholarships are also available for teachers who cannot finance travel to training workshops, Reyes said., a nonprofit and the largest third-party provider for AP CSP curriculum, has seen great feedback from its course curriculum, according to Cameron Wilson, chief operating officer and president of the Advocacy Coalition.

“Teachers generally have had really positive reaction,” Wilson said. Students in classes that used’s curriculum passed the AP test at a 73 percent rate last year, the first year that the College Board issued the exam.

The College Board, who built the framework and exam for CSP classes, reviewed the curriculum, day-to-day lesson plans and professional learning platforms that and other providers came up with on their own. After review, the providers received an endorsement from the College Board, adding them to their “audit” as Wilson says.

The teachers that worked with come from all different backgrounds, Wilson said, but was able to train about 1,300 teachers over the last two years to reach about 44,000 students this year through a series of summer workshops.