How Arkansas jumped ahead on K-12 computer science

Computer science standards are meant to be embedded across content areas, starting in kindergarten
By: | June 18, 2021

Arkansas developed one of the nation’s first set of early grades computer science standards and requires middle school students to take an introduction to coding course.

The K-8 standards are meant to be embedded across content areas and to support classroom activities. The standards focus heavily on digital literacy and using computers in instruction, says Anthony A. Owen, the state director of computer science education in the Arkansas Department of Education. “Integration of basic computer science skills and knowledge through practical classroom experiences promote connections to all subject areas and to the real world,” Owen says. “The standards support critical thinking through the essential skills of computational thinking and algorithmic problem-solving.”

Students in high school computer science courses move toward mastery in computational thinking and problem-solving as well as data and security, algorithms and programs, and professionalism and impacts of computing.

“These standards help students learn to accomplish tasks and solve problems independently and collaboratively,” Owen says. “They give students the tools and skills needed to be successful in college and careers including computer science, computing and other fields.”

Not worried about the ‘have to’s’

A 2020 revision of the standards created nine computer science pathways that cover 55 courses spanning traditional subjects such as programming, networking and robotics along with artificial intelligence, matching learning, data science, app design, game development and other high growth fields. These courses were designed in partnership with industry leaders to ensure they met workforce needs, Owen says.

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“Superintendents and principals who are working to truly make computer science and computing education an integral part of their district, school and community are looking for and taking opportunities to go beyond what the state requires,” he says. “I like to say they are not worried about meeting the ‘have to’s’ because they are focusing on the “should do’s,” which include and go beyond the ‘have to’s.’”

These leaders are encouraging multiple teachers across all grades to become fully certified in computer science and to participate in ongoing professional development offered by the state.

Educators are also encouraging students to participate in clubs, competitions, student organizations and after-school programs that are aligned to the computer science standards.

Beginning with the 9th-grade class of 2022-2023, every Arkansas student must earn one full high school computer science credit to graduate. Each high school will employ a certified computer science teacher by the 2023-2024 school year.

“As these requirements come into effect, our focus will be less on getting enrollments but more on supporting students as they engage in higher-level courses and work toward becoming completers in career programs of study,” Owen says.

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