How Rhode Island is revving up computer science participation

The state is working to expand access to advanced placement classes in computer science
By: | June 22, 2021

Participation in AP computer science classes in Rhode Island has increased 17-fold since 2016.

During that time, educators have been implementing and refining the state’s initial set of computer science standards, which lay out what students will learn from kindergarten to career, says Spencer Sherman, chief for innovation in the Rhode Island Department of Elementary & Secondary Education. That includes partnerships with Brown University and Project Lead the Way to offer professional development in computer science for teachers at all levels, Sherman says.

Also, the department is now in regular contact with employers to track workforce needs and with higher education to stay up-to-date on how students should be prepared for college. “If you’re a teacher, it can be tough to teach computer science,” Sherman says. “We’re building a pipeline from kindergarten to career through an integrated system.”

A key goal of the state in recent years has been increasing participation and equity in advanced placement and other computer science courses, says Holly Walsh, manager of CS4RI, the department’s computer science initiative.

When data revealed that a large group of students need extra support, the department awarded grants to urban schools to develop strategies plans for computer science instruction. For instance, this helped educators in those schools align computer science with their CTE programs and expand work-based learning programs traditionally reserved for seniors to younger high school students.

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The earlier workforce experiences give students a chance to then take AP computer science on their path to college and careers. And the grants require that the demographic makeup of computer science courses match the demographic makeup of the school as a whole, Walsh says.

Going forward, the department is working with Tufts University in Boston to develop “Coding as Another Language” computer science standards and curriculum for K-2 students. A key goal of this program is to integrate computer science into early grades math and English as students learn Scratch Jr. and other early programming tools, Walsh says.

The department is also hoping to create a badging system that could a better job than grades and test of demonstrating when students have met certain computer science standards.



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