AP or Dual Credit Computer Science

In addition to Robotics, Computer Science, and Principles of Technology, I teach 4 sections of Business Information Management I (BIM) I. The BIM class is offered as a dual credit course through Navarro College in Corsicana, TX.

While I was completing the credentialing process for Navarro, I noticed that they offer several Computer Science courses that are in-line with our 3 proposed courses. This made me wonder for a moment, is Advanced Placement the best option for our students?

The Case For Dual Credit / Against AP

I have spoken with several different administrators and they are excited about the possibility of offering the Computer Science courses as dual credit as opposed to Advanced Placement.

The reasoning for their excitement is that if the course is offered as dual credit, the student must complete the assigned work and assessments satisfactorily and at the conclusion they receive college credit. Under the Advanced Placement option, the student must do this as well and meet a minimum score of a College Board created/administered exam.

The dual credit solution also allows us to offer Computer Science I, Computer Science II, and Computer Science III as college-level courses. Under the Advanced Placement option, only Computer Science I and Computer Science II would be college-level courses.

In a dual credit scenario, the students will know exactly which college-level courses they are receiving credit for at Navarro College. Under the Advanced Placement option, students have an idea of which courses the Advanced Placement credit will cover but there is no guarantee.

The Case for AP / Against Dual Credit

Having worked for a time in higher education, I have had the chance to see what lies on the other side of the fence. In the world of higher education, faculty are many times admonished if their percentage of “A’s” or passing is too high. This is the concept of grade inflation. Institutions of higher education don’t want to appear that “everyone passes and gets an A!” They have an appearance of academic rigor to uphold.

In the world of K-12 education, we have almost the exact opposite. In K-12, faculty are admonished if their failure percentage is too high. For example, where I am at now, a failure rate above 15% is unacceptable.

As such, let’s look at some grades for 15 fictional students:

  • Student A – 90
  • Student B – 88
  • Student C – 57
  • Student D – 65
  • Student E – 97
  • Student F – 73
  • Student G – 94
  • Student H – 82
  • Student I – 76
  • Student J – 79
  • Student K – 82
  • Student L – 88
  • Student M – 94
  • Student N – 45
  • Student O – 85

In this example, the class average is 79.67% with a failure rate of 20%.

To bring that failure rate down to under the 15% threshold, I would have to find some way to bring the grade of “Student D” up to passing as they are the closest to passing.

If we apply a curve based upon the formula of
grade + (square root (grade) X 0.6)
we get the following:

  • Student A – 90 –> 96
  • Student B – 88 –> 94
  • Student C – 57 –> 62
  • Student D – 65 –> 70
  • Student E – 97 –> 100
  • Student F – 73 –> 78
  • Student G – 94 –> 100
  • Student H – 82 –> 87
  • Student I – 76 –> 81
  • Student J – 79 –> 84
  • Student K – 82 –> 87
  • Student L – 88 –> 94
  • Student M – 94 –> 100
  • Student N – 45 –> 49
  • Student O – 85 –> 91

The class average is now 85% with a failure rate of 13.3%.

So, in the world of K-12 education, this class is now clear of any additional scrutiny of its grades. However, “Student D” who did not demonstrate mastery of the skills has passed.

Let’s assume that “Student D” performs the same way for the entire year – just barely passing due to the curves. This student leaves high school receives college-level credit for the class and believes they are ready for the next-level course, when they are not.

In contrast, an Advanced Placement course could also be held to the same grading guidelines and “Student D” would receive their passing grade in the course. However, to have the possibility to receive college credit, “Student D” would have to score high enough on the College Board exam for that course. Given the performance of “Student D” in the class, they would likely not score high enough to receive college-level credit.

Personal Opinion

I have spoken with administrators at both the K-12 and higher education levels and have come to a final decision.

My initial thoughts are that dual credit Computer Science would be a great solution for my students in the short term as they would be all but guaranteed college-level credit. They would get the “feel good” feeling of receive college credit.

However, in the long-term, I feel that Advanced Placement is the best solution because if counteracts the grade inflation inherent in K-12 education with the College Board exam. Here, the “feel good” feeling of receiving college credit would be genuine as they would have passed an effective 3rd party exam.

As the majority of students taking the class will pursue college after high school, the long-term solution of Advanced Placement seems to be the best option at this time.

How to Make It Better

There are a few different options that could be done to make this better for everyone involved all-around and level the attractiveness of both options for the short-term and long-term:

  1. Remove punitive actions for failure rates in excess of 15% in college-credit classes.
  2. Add oversight to monitor failure rates in college-credit classes and transfer students to non-college-credit classes when justified.
    NOTE: This is already done for many Advanced Placement courses but not Dual Credit.
  3. Genuinely align classroom, campus, and district expectations of college-credit participants (teachers & students) to those of the college that the credit is awarded through.

AP or No AP

Introduction

This week, I have had the privilege of working with some outstanding educators from across the country at the UTeach: Computer Science Principles AP training held in Dallas, TX.

At this training, we were preparing for the newest addition by College Board to their general AP offerings: AP Computer Science Principles.

On the first day, the presenter stated that not all schools represented were going to be offering this for AP credit and I was stumped. I could not figure out why you would not present a course as AP if you could. However, as the week went on, I realized that my own campus is likely one of the ones that will not offer it as an AP course.

Background (Course)

This course is built to be offered to students who would not typically take a Computer Science course. UTeach has based their curriculum on the University of Texas courseThriving in Our Digital World which is the mandatory Computer Science course for non-Computer Science majors.

Background (My Students)

The students I will be starting with next year have all self-taught themselves JAVA as part of an after-school club. They participated on their own at UIL district competition and advanced to compete at UIL regional competition! These students have a strong desire to refine their skills in computational thinking and program development.

The Problem

The AP Computer Science Principles course is language agnostic and primarily relies on block languages such as Scratch for its primary delivery. As my students have been working with a text-based language, this will feel like a substantial step backwards.

Also, the course will not adequately prepare my students for participation in UIL, which is JAVA specific. I feel that my students will derive more long-term benefit from preparation and participation in UIL than they would completing this AP course.

Administration Support

I am blessed to have an administration team at the campus and district levels who trusts my judgement to do what is in the best interests of our students. I have actually been told by one of my administrators, “My ego is not stroked based upon how many courses have the letters “AP” in front of them. Do what’s best for our students. That’s what I want and what I expect.”

The Decision

Currently, the decision has been made that we will be offering the following:

  • Computer Programming
    • 2016/2017 (Not AP)
      • Programming Language: JAVA
    • 2017/2018 and Beyond (Not AP)
      • Programming Language: Python
  • AP Computer Programming
    • 2017/2018 (AP CS-A)
      • Programming Languages: Python, Ruby and Persistent Parallels to JAVA
    • 2018/2019 and Beyond (AP CS-A)
      • Programming Languages: JAVA and Ruby

The idea is that the students entering Computer Programming in 2016/2017 will be formally learning JAVA. In the next year, those students will progress to the second-year course, which is aligned with AP Computer Science-A and will cover the languages of Python and Ruby with persistent reminders of JAVA. Students in this group will be the UIL Computer Science team for both 2016/2017 and 2017/2018.

The students entering Computer Programming in 2017/2018 will be learning Python while learning computational problem-solving skills. In the next year, those students will progress to the second-year course, which is aligned with AP Computer Science-A and will cover the languages of JAVA and Ruby. Starting in 2018/2019, when these students enter the second-year course, they will be the UIL Computer Science team. In all future years, the team will be comprised of students from this second-year course.

Long-Term Benefit

The hope is that students in this program will leave with truly marketable skills in JAVA, Ruby, and Python development.