AP Computer Science is NOT Going Away

By Cameron
April 4, 2008

Today’s Washington Post has an article stating that the College Board, (the body that administers Advanced Placement courses) is doing away with several AP courses — including one computer science course. Reading the article, you’d likely reach the conclusion, as attested by e-mails I’ve seen this morning, that all AP computer science courses are being eliminated. This is not the case. There are two AP computer science courses — AP Computer Science A, and AP Computer Science AB. The college board is eliminating the less popular AB course, not the A course.

The other important issue that the story does not raise is that many thoughtful people from the computing community are working with the College Board to redefine what AP CS means. In fact, this is part of the e-mail the College Board sent out announcing the decision:

“Appropriate College Board committees will focus their efforts on improving and supporting the AP Computer Science A program, which will be enhanced during the next five years to better represent a full-year, entry-level college computer science sequence.

Our intensified commitment to AP Computer Science A will ensure that the course provides the best possible college-level academic experience and is supported by an increased array of curricular resources and professional development opportunities that will benefit AP Computer Science teachers.”

This news comes as a shock to many of the people involved with the AP Computer Science, and many are not happy with how this was handled. Certainly declining participation (chart below) in the CS AB class contributed to this decision, but there may have been factors that contributed to this decline besides course content. ACM launched its Education Policy Committee last year to look at some of these questions from a policy context, and we can speculate about a couple of contributing factors. First, computer science is often counted as a business or technology elective instead of a core class. With Federal policy focused on testing in reading and math, core courses receive many more resources and attention than electives. Second, these organizational issues contribute to teacher certification problems where CS teachers are often certified outside of their field of expertise.

AP Computer Science Participation by Year

While this news will probably be seen as a blow to AP CS teachers, the overall story certainly isn’t a negative as one would conclude from the Washington Post story. AP Computer Science is a going concern, and there are efforts on a number of different levels to improve computing education at the k-12 level.