Three Hidden Takeaways from Code.org’s AP Computer Science News

A recent Medium post authored by Code.org trumpeted a new record for the number of girls that took the AP Computer Science exam. Over 29,000 female students took the exam, a number up from 2,600 ten years ago - far outpacing the growth in the number of boys taking the test over that same time.

This is tremendous news! Full stop. No “buts” – which I know many of you have become accustomed to from me. This growth is impressive and an important step in addressing so many of the workforce and diversity issues we regularly put forward. Congrats to Code.org for their important efforts and to so many of the other individuals and teams and organizations that have contributed to the attainment of this important milestone.

After reading the post a couple of times and digesting the stats, I do want to callout what I think are some hidden takeaways from this achievement that can help us build on this success and propel us to the next great milestones.

1. The New AP Computer Science Principles Course Exposes Prior Shortcomings

This is the name of a new AP course and exam developed and launched last year in collaboration between Code.org and the National Science Foundation (NSF). It was the largest College Board AP exam launch in history and has helped raise participation in Computer Science (CS) from female and minority students.

For those of you not familiar with the Advanced Placement exams, they are taught in high school and are meant challenge high achieving students. The nationally given test is graded on a 1-5 scale, and colleges can give credit to an incoming student if they scored high enough - thereby saving a student credits.

In the past, the AP Computer Science test has been a bellwether of how well the country has been preparing our high schoolers for careers in tech. It is one of the only measures of girls and minorities learning tech, with minimal growth over the past few years. This past year was the first to see such astounding growth in CS tests by females and minorities.

This new course has obviously been an important catalyst for this change. Interestingly, it did not require the teaching of Java, but allowed the student to choose the language for development. This should tell us that we need to listen to our girls more. They want to learn technology – 29,000 of them just told us they do – but they want to do it in a way that’s interesting to them. The takeaway for me is that by creating more courses that involve and engage them, we will continue to see exponential interest and growth.

2. Code.org and NSF Prove Importance of Collaborations

The alliance between Code.Org and the NSF is another key point from this post. Collaborations are the most effective way to solve for our country’s lack of women and minorities in tech.

The effort to inspire and teach our kids is labor and resource intensive. No one person or group will be able to do it alone. And each group has important information that can be shared with the wider industry to influence other successful programs in service to our girls.

For example, at TechGirlz we have found that there are tremendous differences between 11-14 year old girls depending on the cities in which they live, their travel and school commute patterns, and their economic status. We regularly share those lessons with schools and others to help shorten the “learning loop” and enable other organizations to make a greater impact, faster.

3. Early Interventions Work!

My final takeaway from this post was its validation for so many studies that have suggested working with girls at an early age. Multiple researchers have found that by engaging girls in lower and middle school, we can have a greater impact on their love and proficiency for technology.

Intuitively, this makes sense, and the Code.org news proves that. Reach out to girls at a young age with school offerings but also extra-curricular opportunities that speak to their interests. In this way, we can build a funnel that will lead to the astounding growth shared in this post.

I’d like to close with two thoughts. First, we are still early in the cycle of change. It took more than 30-years for this downturn to happen, and it will not reverse overnight. But these are important milestones on our path back.

Second, I’d like to challenge everyone to explore other ways to measure the number of and growth in young women interested in technology. Not all girls want to take AP computer science exams, so using this as our default metric provides an incomplete picture. Can we track AP exams in conjunction with things like robotic competitions or extracurricular programs? By expanding our tracking, we can make sure all girls get the support and resources they need.

But progress is progress, and I am so excited for this news. Congrats to Code.org and NSF. And most of all – congrats to our 29,000+ girls!

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