Significant Increase in Schools Receiving Annual AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award
College Board Recognizes 1,119 Schools for Achieving Gender Equality in Computer Science Education
The College Board announced recipients of our annual AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award, recognizing schools for achieving gender equality in AP Computer Science A (CSA) and/or AP Computer Science Principles (CSP). Schools honored with the AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award have taken a critical step toward closing the gender gap in the field of computer science, where women have historically been underrepresented.
1,119 schools were recognized for achieving either 50% or higher female examinee representation in one or both AP computer science courses, or a percentage of the female computer science examinees meeting or exceeding that of the school’s female population, during the 2019-20 school year. That’s an increase of nearly 37% over the 818 schools recognized during the 2018-19 school year. Of these schools, 831 earned the award for AP CSP, 232 for AP CSA, and 56 had the distinction of receiving the award for both courses.
“Today’s students need the power to shape technology, not just cope with it,” says Stefanie Sanford, College Board chief of Global Policy and External Relations. “Young women deserve an equal opportunity to become the next generation of entrepreneurs, engineers, and tech leaders. Closing the gap in computer science education empowers young women to build the future they want.”
The first year of AP Computer Science Principles in 2016-17 attracted more students than any other AP course debut, and participation is on the rise. In 2020, more than 116,000 students took the AP CSP Exam—more than double the number of exam takers in the course’s first year, and a 21% increase over the previous year. In 2020, 39,570 women took the AP CSP Exam, nearly 3 times the number that tested in 2017.
“I suggest AP Computer Science courses, particularly AP Computer Principles, to ALL of our students,” says Nathan Roller, AP CSP teacher at Alliance Gertz-Ressler High School in Los Angeles, California. “AP Computer Science Principles is a great introduction to computer science and a way for students to get into the field. Many of my students talk about how they see some of the creativity from art in AP Computer Science Principles. I've also had female students tell me they are now interested in going into the field of computer science after having taken the course.”
Alliance Gertz-Ressler is receiving the Female Diversity Award for both AP CSP and AP CSA, and like many other schools across the country, all instruction has been remote since March 2020. Roller says virtual learning will continue for the remainder of the school year.
“Many students are at home taking care of siblings or other family members, and some have even lost relatives or close friends to the virus. However, our students are coping with all of the issues they face. And there was one positive impact from the pandemic. In my AP Computer Science Principles classes last year, when the entire exam was online, my students did extremely well, with over 70% scoring 3 or higher on the exam. This was a huge increase from the previous year and a nice surprise amidst the pandemic.”
At University Heights High School in the South Bronx, New York, a first-time recipient of the dual Female Diversity Award, “students were shocked and emotionally distressed about the pandemic and school closing,” says AP CSP teacher Elizabeth Jacob. Remote learning was a challenge, but Jacob says, “students persevered and dedicated themselves to submitting their AP CSP tasks. Out of 7 students who scored 5 on their AP CSP Exam, 6 of them were female.”
And students weren’t the only ones facing adversity. When Jacob had to take an unexpected medical leave of absence, her colleague and AP CSA teacher Nathan Weber stepped in to teach her class while continuing to mentor his own students.
“This has been a rough year for me,” says Nicaurys Arnoat Perez, a senior at University Heights High School. “I have had family who have been affected by the virus and I have family members that died. But it has brought me a lot closer to my mom and my sister.”
Nicaurys is taking AP CSA for a second time this semester, thanks to Mr. Weber’s encouragement and tutoring over the summer. “Throughout the last year, computer science helped me gain more confidence and improve my problem-solving skills. The class opened a door for me and helped me branch out and ultimately helped me develop an interest in biomedical engineering. Being able to get this award to kind of boost our school and every other school, it says that, you know, females are getting there. And we’re going to break that ratio of two or three men to every woman in computer science.”
Providing female students with access to computer science courses is critical to ensuring gender parity in the industry’s high-paying jobs and to drive innovation, creativity, and representation. The median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations was $88,240 in May 2019. However, a code.org analysis of 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics data finds women represent just 24% of the 5 million people in computing occupations.
That’s why new College Board research about AP CSP is so encouraging. According to the data, female students who take AP CSP in high school are more than 5 times as likely to major in computer science in college, compared to similar female students who did not take CSP. The study also finds AP CSP students are nearly twice as likely to enroll in AP CSA, and that for most students, AP CSP serves as a stepping-stone to other advanced AP STEM coursework.
These findings make it all the more imperative that schools nationwide achieve gender parity in AP computer science classrooms. The 1,119 schools that receive this year’s AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award should serve as inspirations and models for all American high schools, where, overall, female students remain underrepresented in computer science classes, at just 34% of AP Computer Science Principles participants.
There’s a long way to go to achieve equal gender representation in the field of computer science. And currently, less than half of the nation’s high schools teach foundational computer science, a clear opportunity to be addressed by strong partnerships between policymakers, the tech industry, and educators.