A year ago, the College Board saw the numbers of female students and underrepresented minority students taking the Advanced Placement exam for computer science more than double — but what about this year?
As Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi puts it, “the momentum continues.”
The statistics don’t quite match last year’s triple-digit percentage increases. But they do show a narrower gap between female students as well as black and Latino students on one side, and male students as well as white and Asian students on the other.
This year, 135,992 students took the AP Computer Science exam, which is a 31 percent rise over last year’s figures. The number of young women taking the exam rose by 39 percent, to 38,195.
Black or African-American students registered a 44 percent rise, to 7,301 participants. Hispanic or Latino participants numbered 20,954, which is an increase of 41 percent. And rural students posted a 42 percent rise to 14,184 participants.
The trend is particularly gratifying to Partovi. “Although we are far from balanced representation in computer science, we’ve seen the balance improve steadily, every year since Code.org launched in 2013,” he wrote in a Medium post.
The Seattle-based nonprofit aims to boost computer science education through curriculum plans and tutorials, training sessions for teachers and other computer-centric activities such as its “Hour of Code” campaign.
Last year brought a giant leap for Code.org, thanks to the 2016 launch of Computer Science Principles, a yearlong introduction to computer science that can be taught as an AP or non-AP course, with no prerequisities.
About 70 percent of the students in Code.org CS Principles classrooms say they want to pursue computer science after graduation. “We are optimistic that these gains will have a downstream impact on diversity in tech at the university and workforce level,” Partovi said.
Partovi acknowledged that the computer science profession still has a long way to go when it comes to reflecting America’s diversity. For example, women account for only 28 percent of all students taking the AP Computer Science exams, and only 17 percent of university computer science majors.
The picture doesn’t get much better after graduation: Federal statistics show that women account for about a quarter of the professionals in computer and math occupations, and a sixth of the workforce in architecture and engineering.
But Partovi voiced hope that the numbers will even out in the years ahead.
“When we look at the 30 million students on Code.org, their diversity almost perfectly matches the diversity of the population at large. And the participation is far greater among the youngest students,” he said.
About a quarter of all U.S. students have an account on Code.org, but that proportion rises to about two-thirds for fifth-graders.
“From offering curriculum with broader relevance like Computer Science Principles, to teachers who actively recruit a diverse classroom of students, we can’t wait to see what the numbers look like when they grow up!” Partovi said.