Friday, January 29, 2010

AP Tests

So I've been conducting focus groups with International students recently. I've been listening to lots of different inputs and insights into computer science perception and how women fit into the picture of computer science both in their home country and in the United States. A recurring theme has been the exposure to computing and computer science prior to arriving in college and being forced to make an educational decision that will impact the next 4 years of their life at least and how women aren't enrolling at numbers comparable to men in computer science. At one point one person told me that making computer science compulsory in high school would close the gap significantly. This got me to wondering exactly how many people in high school are getting exposed to computer science in some way, shape, or form.

Now, I know the AP test is by no means an exact or even remotely close to exact figure of how many people are taking computer science in high school. I also know that the AP test is more a measure of your programming knowledge than anything else. However, for someone to take the Computer Science AP test, it suggests that they believe to have had some exposure to something akin to collegiate level in computer science. After digging around on the College Board website for a while, I made a list of the number of people who took all of the AP tests in 2009. The chart is below:

From this information we've learned some information that at least to me is a little bit shocking. I mean, I know that not very many people get exposed to computer science prior to high school. Going in I knew computer science would be dominated by tests like Calculus and English. However, there were quite a few that surprised me considerably. For one Art History has significantly more takers than Computer Science, almost 33% more. More people in high school are exposed to a collegiate level of art history than they are to computer science. I have never met anyone who's met anyone who's taken the Art History exam but it's still taken more often than Computer Science. In fact, about the same number of people are exposed to Computer Science as are exposed to Spanish literature. I don't know this for a fact but I get the feeling there's a lot less people majoring in Spanish literature than in computer science. Why then are the numbers taking the AP tests comparable? While collecting this data I cringed with every new page I opened up (and not just because half of College Board's data is corrupted, which is why several figures are missing including Spanish Language and Music Theory). I could make arguments for issues of class difference that keeps computer science being as popular as microeconomics since it's probably more expensive to teach, but it's hard to make that argument for all of the tests it's outstripped by.

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