Does Making CS “Count” Make a Difference?

Above: the blue bar shows the increase in female and underrepresented minority students taking the AP Computer Science A Exam in schools one-year after implementing computer science (t=1). The grey bar shows participation of students during the first year of implementation. Data and calculations can be found here.

In 2013, the Code.org Advocacy Coalition, a non-partisan network of organizations working to advance K-12 computer science education policy, launched the Make Computer Science Count campaign. Members of the coalition went state-by-state asking leaders to change policy allowing students to “count” a rigorous computer science course toward mathematics or science graduation requirements. The idea was this policy would increase student interest and participation in computer science because a student could count it as a “core” course instead of yet another elective.

Since the campaign’s launch, our coalition has helped change policies in 24 states. Now 34 states (plus Washington, D.C.) have adopted policies allowing computer science to “count” for graduation credit. With so many states implementing this policy, we can now look back at the question: does making CS count make a difference? Our analysis suggests the policy has led to positive changes in overall student participation in AP CS courses and in participation by females and underrepresented minorities.

We looked at AP Computer Science A data (the only robust national set available) to help answer this question. We had two major findings:

As measured by the average number of AP CS A exams from schools that offer AP CS A the year after a state makes CS count:

  • The average number of AP CS A exams in schools with AP CS A increases by 10%.
  • The average number of AP CS A exams taken by female students increases by 24%.
  • The average number taken by underrepresented minority students increases by 26%.

As measured by the proportion of all AP exams that are AP CS A comparing states that do “count” CS vs. those that don’t:

  • CS participation is 19% higher in states that count CS as a graduation requirement.
  • Among females, participation is 48% higher.
  • Among underrepresented minority students, participation is 64% higher.

There’s obviously a lot going on to support the expansion of AP CS in states in addition to changing policy, but these results suggest that this policy change can have a positive outcome. The state leaders behind this movement deserve credit for making a big positive change in our education system and growing participation in computer science while starting to increase diversity among students.

Although participation in AP Computer Science A is up, it still makes up just over 1% of all AP exams. And while making computer science “count” seems to have positive outcomes in student demand, the increase doesn’t help students if there’s no course offered at their school. To fix the access problem, we encourage states to adopt a K-12 access initiative for computer science.