Girls still make up less than a third of AP CS test-takes — here’s how we can change that
By: Reshma Saujani, Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code
Every year, the College Board releases data on participation in AP Computer Science exams. The data tell a story about the future of our tech workforce — who might go on to major in computer science, who will go on to lead the workforce of tomorrow, and — most importantly — who won’t.
On their face, the numbers reported by the College Board in 2018 are encouraging. States and schools districts across the country have taken steps to increase access to computer science in recent years — increasing overall participation in the exam.
But look a little deeper and you’ll see that, although overall participation is up… the percentage of girls and minorities taking the exam remains almost exactly the same. That is to say, dismally low. In 2018, girls made up less than 30 percent of those taking the exam, hispanic students made up 15 percent, and black students made up less than 6 percent.
And so, although access to computer science in K-12 schools is at an all time high, we are still seeing the same students left behind. Here’s why: gender and diversity gaps in tech will not change if we focus solely on increasing access. In fact, expanding access without an eye on diversity risks reinforcing decades-old imbalances.
To make a real impact, we need to focus on tried and true measures proven to increase participation by girls and minorities, specifically.
Our initiatives at Girls Who Code have been incredibly successful in this regard. Over the past 6 years, we’ve watched girls thrive in our classrooms and beyond — benefitting from gender-specific spaces, lessons about women pioneers in tech, and a curriculum that encourages them to embrace the failure that’s inevitable with coding.
“Gender and diversity gaps in tech will not change if we focus solely on increasing access.” — Reshma Saujani
Today, alumni of our programs are majoring in computer science and related degrees at a rate 15 times the U.S. national average — for alumni from historically underrepresented groups in tech, that rate goes up to 16 times the national average.
If we can translate that success to classrooms across the country, we could start to see real significant changes in the data on students taking AP CS, and enrolling in CS at the college level.
In July, we released a Policy Agenda that offers to legislators a path towards closing the gender gap in tech. The agenda includes four core recommendations — 1) track and report data on computer science participation, 2) expand computer science courses to all middle schools, 3) increase exposure to women and other underrepresented minorities in tech, and 4) fund gender inclusion training within professional development.
In August, we released our Women in Tech Lesson Plans — giving teachers across the country the tools they need to help increase exposure to women and minorities in tech, a key pillar of the Policy Agenda.
These are just the first steps towards closing the gender gap in tech for good. Bringing girls into AP CS classrooms is a start — but by encouraging our girls with role models and measuring our progress, we’ll have a real shot at ensuring they go on to excel in CS in college, and in the workforce. Together, we can create a world where the solutions to our biggest problems are built by the girls who have been told they weren’t built for computer science.