Computing Profession

AP CS No Longer Counts For High School Graduation in Georgia (for Now)

Georgia Institute of Technology Professor Mark Guzdial

Up until September, Georgia and Texas were the (only) two states in the US that accepted a computer science course as fulfilling high school graduation requirements.  In Texas, the Advanced Placement Computer Science (AP CS) course fulfilled a mathematics requirement.  In Georgia, it fulfilled a fourth science course requirement.  As of October, however, Georgia has rescinded that decision.  (It's interesting to note that no student in Georgia had yet used AP CS to count for graduation — the decision was made for the class graduating in 2011 or 2012, but that problem was quickly fixed before those students reached AP CS.)

How did it happen that Georgia counted CS as a science, at all?  There was an effort a few years ago to get AP CS to count as a mathematics, but that was beaten back.  While we might have been able to convince the Georgia Department of Education, the University System of Georgia's Board of Regents would not have accepted it as a real mathematics course.  Counting for high school graduation is a moot point if it doesn't count for college admissions.  However, Georgia had just decided to require four science classes — but didn't actually have enough science teachers to teach all students four sciences!  So, a bunch of courses in Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education (CTAE) (where CS is located in Georgia high schools) were allowed to count as a science.

Recently, the Board of Regents decided to revise its admissions requirements.  The Dept. of Ed. and the Board of Regents decided to synchronize graduation and admissions requirements — a good idea.  So, the Board of Regents reviewed all the "science" classes and nixed AP CS, along with courses like "Biotechnology" and "Veterinary Science."  They did approve courses like "Energy and Power Technology" and "Food & Nutrition Through the Lifespan" as sciences.

I spoke to the chair of the Board of Regents review committee, and to our benefit, they had decided to reject the course at the leadership team level, not with a full review.  The arguments against AP CS were predictable:  “It’s just not a science–Computer Science is only a 'science' because it has the word in its name.” and “It’s more of a technology class.”  When I argued that AP CS has science practices (hypothesizing, testing models, evaluating results), even though the content is the virtual world not the physical world. The committee chair explicitly said that's enough–it’s then not a science. 

The decision at the leadership team is to our benefit because we in "Georgia Computes!" and the Georgia Dept. of Ed have now requested a full review.  A full review involves a review of the course curriculum by university science faculty around the state. I asked how her faculty review committee considers what courses count.  “These science faculty ask themselves, ‘Will taking this class in high school make a difference when these students get to my undergraduate science classes?'"  Well, that’s a really high bar, and one that we’re unlikely to meet.  Why should taking AP CS improve performance in undergraduate biology or chemistry?

The chair also agreed, though, that AP CS is an important course that is well worth encouraging students to take, by making it count towards graduation.  Thus, they have agreed that, if the faculty reject it as a science, they will re-consider it as a mathematics. So, it's not over yet, but right now, no CS courses count towards high school graduation requirements in Georgia — which is the same for all other states in the US besides Texas.


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