At RePublic Schools, we believe in teaching all of our scholars computer science as a part of an opportunity-filled, rigorous college prep education. This begins with our kindergarten scholars and goes all the way up to our high school scholars who prepare for and take the AP Computer Science Principles exam. Additionally, in alignment with our core value of Lead for Racial Equity, we believe that teaching computer science is even more critical given that the majority of our scholars identify as Black and Latinx, both of whom are vastly underrepresented in computer science related professions.
This year, we are proud to share that 70 percent of our RePublic High School scholars who sat for the AP Computer Science exam passed with a 3 or higher. This is an incredible achievement and our Associate Director of Marketing & Communications, Megan Cole, sat down with Allison Arth, Director of Computer Science, and Mehreen Butt, Dean of Science and Computer Science Instruction at RePublic High School, to talk about this success and our program at large.
Here at RePublic Schools we believe in computer science for all scholars. What does that look like in practice?
Mehreen – In most schools, computer science education is an elective or only offered for a select number of students. At RePublic, we intentionally prioritize computer science as a primary course, and scholars have the opportunity to learn a variety of programming languages and industry-ready skills. Our CS classrooms are as diverse as the future we envision for the tech workforce.
Allison – Just as Mehreen said, CS for ALL means all RePublic scholars. Kindergarten through high school juniors are enrolled in at least one computer science course. This also means that all RePublic sophomores take AP Computer Science Principles, and if they pass the exam, scholars earn a college credit in computer science.
Speaking of our sophomores, 70 percent of scholars who sat for the exam earning a 3 or higher on the AP Computer Science Principles exam is an incredible accomplishment. This is also a marked improvement from last year where only 32 percent of scholars who sat for the exam passed. What do you think made the difference?
Allison – This class of scholars was the first to be offered computer science as sixth graders, so they had four years of computer science prior to taking the AP class. I believe this had a large part to the success of our scholars, they have been working towards their performance tasks for the past five years. Additionally, each year we learn more and more from the years before and have made adjustments to the curriculum to better support teachers and scholars. Speaking of teachers, the RePublic High School computer science team centered their practice around data-driven instruction. Teachers paid close attention to individual scholar results and adjusted the daily lessons to meet the needs of every student. Teachers and students worked during class, after school, and through the pandemic to achieve these results.
Mehreen – To add, our teachers intentionally created opportunities for student buy-in this year that made them deeply invested in their performance, and ultimately their results. Mrs. Fullan built digital data trackers that she used to analyze student performance and to lead 1:1 scholar meetings. She increased tutoring opportunities, built community within her classes through friendly competitions, and made parent partnership a priority. Mr. Sanders launched our school’s first Computer Science Honor Society and exposed our scholars to CS at the collegiate level through a trip to the National Society of Black Engineers regional conference. Our results this year are a reflection of their commitment to maintain the bar of excellence and prepare our scholars to meet the rigorous demands of an AP class.
How do we plan to sustain this kind of growth in the future?
Mehreen – These results have created the perfect foundation for building a culture of computer science excellence. AP CSP is the cornerstone of our program which is focused on investment and partnership. We will continue to provide opportunities for our teachers to grow in their practice and deepen their content knowledge. Investing in excellent teachers who are experienced with the curriculum and mirrors for our scholars in the industry is key to sustaining growth. Furthermore, investing in scholars requires locked-arm partnerships in the community that create pathways for ongoing CS exposure and mentorship.
Allison – I couldn’t be prouder of these 75 scholars and want to ensure we celebrate their success in this AP course. With that said, my job is to ensure we have the same, if not better, level of success in years to come. Short-term, we are making adjustments to our curriculum to reflect the changes College Board made to the AP Computer Science Principles course for the 2020-2021 school year. Teachers will be set up for success through training, observations, and feedback from Mehreen as their coach. Long-term, I am making changes to our middle school curriculum by making it more culturally responsive, increasing the rigor, tracking individual scholar AP-aligned data starting in fifth grade, and adding elements that are required in tenth grade throughout the middle school curriculum.
Clearly your hard work, our teachers’ hard work, and our scholars’ hard work has paid off. What does this mean for our scholars now and in the future?
Allison – In the immediate future, the 75 scholars who passed the course will now graduate high school with a college credit in computer science. The credit counts for their intro to computer science course if they decide to pursue a degree in college. Additionally, passing AP courses is an accomplishment to show off when applying for college or an early job. This will give our scholars a leg up on the competition and lead to higher acceptance rates at the college or university of their choice or position with a company.
Mehreen – When we think about the future, we know that students who have access to computer science courses in high school are more likely to pursue it at the collegiate level – especially for Black and Latinx students in the field. Our scholars will graduate high school having earned college credit in computer science, and I hope that this gives them the confidence to continue pursuing our upper-level computer science courses as well as a future career in tech.
Thinking on a larger scale, what do you think this means for our communities?
Mehreen – The current tech workforce does not reflect many of our students’ racial or gender identity. As a result, technology often is not built with our communities or our scholars in mind. We are intentionally creating access and opportunity in a field that has often silenced Black, Latinx, and female voices by building a talent pipeline right here in Nashville. By investing in a diverse workforce, more products, companies, and industries will reflect the diverse lived experiences of our communities.
Allison – On average, tech jobs are among the highest paid occupations in the United States. The tech industry has historically left out Black and Latinx individuals, where they only makeup 15 percent of the industry. The numbers in education directly reflect those in the industry, where only 13 percent of AP Computer Science Principles exams are taken by Black and Latinx students. By being successful in this course, our scholars have a pathway into post-secondary education and the industry where they will be able to obtain those high-paying jobs.
RePublic’s new core value, Lead For Racial Equity, calls upon us to become an antiracist organization. How do you think our computer science program and these results contribute to living out our core value?
Mehreen – The current tech industry is predominantly white and male. Historically, AP Computer Science course enrollment is not much different, and the passage rate for underrepresented minorities remains low. At RePublic, we refuse to accept this injustice. These results demonstrate our commitment to diversifying the field, creating a pathway for our kids, and ensuring that our scholars not only take the course, but also pass the exam.
Allison – As I shared earlier, our computer science program gives our Black and Latinx scholars opportunities to get into the tech industry, an industry that has a powerful impact on our daily lives. I can only imagine what our lives will be like once our scholars bring their experiences and expertise to a predominantly white and male field, and how it will change our country and world for the better.
And finally, our mission is to reimagine public education in the South? How does this achievement support RePublic to live out our mission?
Mehreen – Our mission is to reimagine public education in the South, and computer science has always been a core tenet of fulfilling that promise to our kids and our families. Our AP Computer Science Principles results this year reaffirm that computer science is the right commitment. At this moment, I am feeling inspired and confident that we are walking the right path.