Note: As of September 2020, this post contains outdated language or graphics referencing “underrepresented minorities.” To see our current language policy around race, ethnicity, and gender, see this support article.
Since the founding of Code.org in 2013, the most common question we’d hear was: can America’s public schools really teach computer science? One influential donor told me “I don’t think it’s possible. You can’t get a teacher without a CS background to teach coding successfully.” I took it as a personal challenge to prove we could do this at a national scale. We had to try. And this wasn’t just about Code.org — this was a national movement, powered by passionate teachers who shared our vision that every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science in schools. Together, we took the leap, to add a new course to the school curriculum.
Four years later, I couldn’t be more proud to share these results: Advanced Placement (AP) exam scores from over ten thousand students, from inner-city schools from Chicago to Dallas, NYC to Oakland, and in rural schools across the country. Today, for the first time, we can report how students using Code.org courses performed on a college-level computer science exam, compared to the U.S. as a whole.
The data we’re comparing is for the new AP Computer Science Principles exam. We previously reported skyrocketing participation in this course, led by girls and underrepresented minorities. Today we have their test scores.
I couldn’t be more proud to share these results. To the extended Code.org family — our generous donors, our expert facilitators and regional partners, and most importantly to our amazing teachers: we did it!
Considering that 70% of students in Code.org CS Principles classrooms express an interest in studying computer science after they graduate from high school, we’re delighted to see our students’ test scores compare favorably to the rest of the country.
Code.org classrooms outperformed the rest of their school…
The results are most exciting when comparing AP exam results in Code.org classrooms to other subjects taught in the same school district — math, English, history, or science. This is easiest to compare in regions where the entire school district has begun teaching computer science, using Code.org’s courses in every school, taught by teachers prepared by Code.org.
For example, in Broward County, the pass-rate across all AP exams was 54%, but in Code.org classrooms, the pass rate on AP Computer Science Principles was 62%.
In Oakland, across all AP exams, only 37% of female students got a passing score, whereas, in Code.org AP Computer Science classrooms, 50% of female students passed the exam.
Even though 2016–17 was the first year that Oakland even offered the course, CS Principles was among the most popular AP courses in the district and #3 in participation by underrepresented minorities.
Note: this difference is reflected nationwide as well. AP Computer Science Principles had a higher pass-rate nationally than the average score across all AP exams, despite its rigor.
… even when their teachers had never taught CS before
What makes these results most special is that in many of these classrooms, the teachers had no prior background in computer science other than their summer workshops with Code.org.
The Code.org professional learning program for teachers focuses on high-needs urban and rural schools, where the majority of students are on free/reduced meal programs. Besides not having an experienced computer science teacher, these classrooms take on many additional challenges — many of the students have no access to computers outside of school, and the schools face other societal hurdles. Focusing on these schools enables Code.org to reach a more diverse audience and truly expand opportunity. Because of our focus on diversity, the exam-takers in these Code.org classrooms are 40% underrepresented minorities, compared to 25% for the remainder of the U.S.
Although the students in these classrooms had a slightly lower pass-rate on the AP CS Principles exam (66%) compared to the nation’s average (74%), when compared to other subjects taught in the same school district, they still scored higher on computer science.
Regardless, we have room to improve on the scores in these classrooms, and we hope to support our CS teachers as they offer this new opportunity to learn computer science in schools that never taught it before.
Already at national scale, and growing fast
Code.org has become the most broadly-used curriculum* for AP Computer Science Principles nationwide, and we are humbled by the vote of confidence by so many amazing teachers. To our teachers: we thank you, and it is our responsibility to continue earning your support each year.
This school year, the smaller slice in the pie chart above has already tripled in size this year. This past summer, Code.org finished preparing almost twice as many new CS Principles teachers as we did for the 2016–17 school year, meaning Code.org classrooms could represent as much as 50% of the entire AP CS Principles program by next year!
We are forever indebted to the amazing teachers who work every year to expand opportunity to America’s students and can’t wait to see what this next year holds.
Hadi Partovi, Code.org
Nationally averaged exam results are a great opportunity to celebrate the work of passionate teachers and the success of the students in their classrooms. However, these results cannot be used to make causal statements about the quality of the Code.org curriculum or professional learning programs, because of so many other factors at play. Besides, many teachers mix and match curriculum resources in their classroom, and different schools have different approaches that determine which students take the class or the exam, both of which are typically optional.
The full data
The data in this report was provided by the College Board, looking at AP scores in all U.S. schools, compared to schools where teachers used the Code.org curriculum, and again to schools where the teacher was prepared by Code.org’s professional learning program.
Note: throughout Code.org’s reports, “underrepresented minorities” means students who are African American, Hispanic/Latino/Latina/Latinx, Native American/Alaskan, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders. The number of students reported as “underrepresented minorities” is undercounting reality, because many students reported ‘2 or more races’ and none of these students are categorized as URM in the data above.
* Whether or not a school used the Code.org curriculum is based on what syllabus was used by the school as part of the College Board AP Course Audit. However, we know that teachers mix and match resources, and our curriculum is designed to support and encourage that. In many of the classrooms classified as using “Code.org curriculum,” teachers may teach certain concepts using other tools or lesson plans they’re more familiar with. And in many classrooms that are not classified as using Code.org curriculum, teachers rely on Code.org videos or other resources.