Despite Progress, Significant Gaps Remain for Females & Minorities in Computer Science AP Exams

The AP (Advanced Placement) Computer Science (A and P) exam is gaining more momentum, with more and more students taking it each year — but big gaps remain.

There are more students taking the AP exam than ever before. This includes girls as well as minorities. However, when it comes to Computer Science (CS), the numbers are still much lower comparatively to other subjects.

According to College Board, May 2018 AP Exams were taken by 2,808,990 students from 22,612 secondary schools, with a total of 5,090,324 examinations taken. “About 1.24 million students — or nearly 40 percent of the class of 2018 — took at least one AP exam in 2018, for a grand total of some 4.22 million tests in all,” the EdWeek Blog noted.

While the number of students taking AP exams has increased by ~3% since last year, the increase for CSA AP exams is a slight 8%, while the increase for CSP AP exams is a whooping 63% — a huge jump from 2017.

However, big gaps remain for female and minority students. While female students are comprised of roughly 62% of test takers in Biology, and 49% and 42% of test takers in Calculus AB and Calculus BC respectively, they are just 24% and 31% of the students that participated in CSA and CSP exams.

According to Code.org, “Young women are 11% more likely to say the CS Principles programming units are too difficult for them, but they score just as high as male students.”

There are also significant variations by states. As stated in Barbara Ericson’s AP CS 2018 Report, “All states had students take the AP CSA exam, but the number of exams per 100,000 of population varied from 43 (New Jersey) to 0.2 (South Dakota). All states had students take the AP CSP exam, but the number of exams per 100,000 of population varied quite a bit from 59 (Maryland) to 1 (Kansas and Montana).”

CS education is not taught throughout the United States evenly, thus affecting results. For example, the numbers are so low in 4 states for the exam that no Black students took the CSA AP exam at all. And the passing rate for Black and hispanic students as a whole were roughly 50% of that for white and Asian students.

Courtesy of Barbara Ericson’s AP CS Report.

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