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New Advanced Placement Computer Science Course Planned for 2016

In an effort to increase the number and diversity of high school students taking computer science, the College Board will launch a new Advanced Placement course in fall 2016 that teaches a broader range of computing skills.

The AP Computer Science Principles course, an alternative to the existing AP Computer Science A course, is already being piloted in hundreds of high schools, said Lien Diaz, a senior director of AP Computer Science for the College Board, which develops the courses and administers the exams.

"We wanted to develop a curriculum framework that really engages students and provides opportunities to be able to study rigorous CS content, but that didn't have to be programming focused," she said. "We wanted to try to increase interest and get kids in the door to study computer science."

All students in AP Computer Science A learn the programming language Java. But in the new principles course, teachers can choose which programming language (or languages) they'd like to teach. For instance, rather than teaching a text-heavy language like Java, teachers can choose a block-based language like Scratch, Alice, or Snap! that can be more accessible for new coders. This may help get more teachers interested in teaching the course as well, said Diaz.

And while programming is central to the Computer Science A course, it's just one of seven major topics in the new offering. Students in the principles course will also study how the Internet works, the global impact of computing, and the ways computational processes can be applied to large datasets. 

The College Board received $5.2 million in funding from the National Science Foundation to complete the curriculum framework and pilot an assessment for the new course. NSF is also supporting the development of aligned teacher resources and materials.

Several other groups, including Code.org and Project Lead the Way, are also partnering with the College Board to provide professional development and materials for teachers. 

Computer science offerings are growing in K-12 schools across the country—but stark gender and racial gaps remain among course takers. 

In 2014, the number of students who took the AP Computer Science A course rose 26 percent from the previous year. Yet just 20 percent of test-takers overall were female. Only 4 percent of test-takers were African-American and 9 percent were Hispanic. (Black and Hispanic students made up 14 percent and 19 percent, respectively, of the high school class of 2014). 

A recent also study found that computer science courses are often inaccessible for black, Hispanic, Native American, and low-income high school students in California.

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