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AP Computer Science Exam Data Point To Continuing Gap in STEM Education for Latinos, Other Minorities

Jul 16, 2014 12:55 AM EDT

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A new study shows that Latinos and other minorities still lag behind in preparation for continuing education in subjects leading to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. The study found that Latinos, females, and African Americans remain underrepresented in Advanced Placement (AP) exams for computer science.

The College Board, which overseas AP tests, has collected data about the students in 2013 that took the AP exam for computer science, and that data -- along with previous selections of data dating back to 2006 -- has now been compiled into a snapshot of high school preparation for STEM careers by Barbara Ericson, the director of computing outreach and a senior research scientist at Georgia Tech.

Some of the findings from the data about minorities taking the AP computer science exam are astonishing. In Mississippi, Montana, and Wyoming, for example, no female took the AP computer science exam. No African Americans took the same exam in 11 states, including Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Utah.

And in eight states -- many of which were previously mentioned -- there were zero Hispanic students taking the AP computer science exam: Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Of course demographic location makes a difference, and Texas, California, Florida, New York, and Illinois were among the top states with Latino students taking the exam.

The overall statistics, according to Education Week, are discouraging. The College Board data shows that in 2013, of the around 30,000 students who took the AP exam for computer science -- which is the end exam for an advanced course that teaches high school students how to design and use computer programs -- Hispanic students comprised only 8 percent. Fewer than 20 percent were female, and only 3 percent were African American.

Texas had the largest percentage of Hispanic students taking the exam, at 18 percent, but that means there were only 751 high school Latinos in Texas, total, taking the AP course in computer science.

In addition to the discouraging general statistics, the data shows that computer science education in minority schools is failing compared to other more privileged high schools. The pass rate, overall, for females, African Americans, and Hispanics in the AP computer science exam were all below those of white males.

 (EducationWeek)

Part of the problem, researcher Barbara Ericson told Education Week, is that AP computer science courses are simply "more prevalent in suburban and private schools than in urban, poor schools." Of the 15,000 high schools that offer some type of AP course, noted Ericson, only about 2,300 high schools were recognized by the College Board as offering the AP computer science course in 2013-2014.

Deborah Davis, spokesperson for the College Board, responded to the report by telling Education Week, "We were not surprised by Barbara Ericson's findings because unfortunately, computing courses have historically been dominated by white, male students," but went on to mention that the College Board is committed to working on that trend.

"That said, the College Board is deeply committed to increasing access to rigorous computing courses, particularly for underrepresented female and minority students," wrote Davis. "In order to address this issue, we are collaborating with national organizations, other nonprofits and the private sector to ensure expanded access."

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