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School & District Management

States Expanding Mandates for Students to Take Computer Science

By Audrey Armitage — April 23, 2015 2 min read
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Fourteen states are now mandating that computer science classes be counted towards students’ required credits in high school math, science, or foreign language, according to a new report by the Education Commission of the States.

Additionally, two states have enacted policies that allow computer science classes to be used to fulfill graduation requirements, though they don’t require students to take those courses.

These policies are relatively new—most have been adopted within the past year or two, said report author Jennifer Zinth of the ECS, a Denver-based research organization. It remains to be seen if other states will follow suit, but Zinth noted increasing legislative interest in computer science and in “aligning K-12 course offerings and graduation requirements with the needs of the workforce.”

The growing interest among organizations and policymakers in reducing disparities in access to technology and tech-based training may lead to the adoption of new policies focused on computer science in the future, Zinth said.

Counting computer science classes toward math and science requirements would not allow students to skip core classes in these subject areas, but would be an advanced math or science option for upper-level high school students. However, a few state’s computer science policies do not include information about other math and science courses students must complete, or include computer science in a list of courses that fill a math or science requirement without specifying that computer science would likely be an advanced course.

Allowing computer science classes to be used to fulfill math, science, and foreign language requirements has potential to draw more students to courses focused on building digital skills than would otherwise occur if those courses were simply electives, Zinth said.

Although there has been growth in the number of students taking Advanced Placement computer science exams in recent years, Zinth said the increase is not translating to strong mastery of the material. Many students, she noted, are still getting low scores in that subject on the AP exam.

To ensure that high school computer science courses effectively prepare students, Zinth emphasized the need for quality teacher training, more classes to help strengthen students’ background knowledge of the subject, and adequate technology for schools to offer coding classes.

In addition to the graduation requirement policies, states are taking other, broader steps to increase students overall access to computer science, and to boost teachers’ preparation to teach it.

Arkansas recently passed a measure mandating that all high schools offer computer science classes, and the Washington state legislature created a grant program to help rural districts acquire the resources and training needed to teach computer science.

As more states count high school computer science courses as math and science credits, Zinth predicts that computer science’s fulfillment of graduation requirements will not only continue to spur policy, but will also become a part of the “college-readiness conversation.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.