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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Expanding Access to Computer Science and Recommended Amendment to MassCore

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner
Date:
June 15, 2018

This memo follows the January 23, 2018 joint resolution of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Higher Education to form a working group to develop a specific proposal intended to accomplish two goals:

  1. To develop a long-term strategy to enable many more students graduating from Massachusetts public high schools to study computer science/computational thinking as part of MassCore, the recommended program of studies in high school.
  2. To increase the number of students interested in pursuing computer science as a field of study in postsecondary education and, by extension, those students interested in pursuing careers in technology following graduation from a postsecondary institution.

The Boards charged the working group to consider:

  1. Moving computer science from use as an "additional core course" in MassCore to allow for a computer science course to substitute for other MassCore courses.
  2. Exploring how a computer science component in MassCore might be met through a multi-year, integrated course of study or pathway.
  3. Ensuring that any computer science course or pathway that is incorporated into MassCore is aligned with the 2016 Digital Literacy and Computer Science (DLCS) standards Download Word Document.
  4. Developing an assessment strategy that provides the opportunity to demonstrate competency in computer science as a means of meeting the high school Competency Determination (CD) for purposes of high school graduation.
  5. Exploring the incorporation of computer science into higher education admissions criteria as an incentive for expanded computer science offerings.
  6. Identifying and addressing barriers to ensuring equitable access to all students to pursue courses in computer science and/or digital literacy.
  7. Exploring alignment of computer science with existing math pathways.

The attached report, Access to PK-12 Computer Science Courses in Massachusetts, 2016-2017 Download Word Document, highlights barriers to equitable access to computer science and proposes strategies for addressing them. The final recommendations proposed herein account for but do not necessarily represent the views of all members of the working group.1

About MassCore

Adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2007, MassCore is a state-recommended program of study intended to align high school coursework with college and workforce expectations. (See Table 1: Current MassCore Framework.) MassCore was developed to increase the likelihood that high school graduates would meet admission requirements for the Commonwealth's four-year public colleges and the University of Massachusetts, as well as improve students' chances of admission to private colleges. All Massachusetts public high school students, including students with disabilities and English learners, should have the opportunity to complete MassCore. The 22 units, or courses, included in MassCore are expected to be rigorous, engaging, and based on appropriate grade level standards in the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and beyond.

MassCore outlines a recommended minimum program of study in high school. School committees may recommend or require additional learning experiences, such as service learning or a senior project. Further, students may take more rigorous coursework including Honors, Advanced Placement (AP), early college or dual enrollment classes, or participate in an International Baccalaureate (IB) program. School districts also have the flexibility to decide whether students will be awarded high school credit for courses taken in middle school, provided they are equivalent to high school courses and address the same high school academic standards.

While students enrolled in Chapter 74 state-approved vocational technical programs should have the opportunity to complete MassCore, it includes a provision to enable students to not take a course in the arts and foreign language and still fulfill MassCore. Specifically, within the 22 MassCore units, students have the flexibility to take five or more additional units in a Career/Vocational Technical Education Pathway and/or pursue additional interests in other elective courses.

Figure 1 shows the percentage of students completing MassCore in suburban, rural, and urban schools between the 2012-2013 and 2016-2017 school years. Across all regions of the Commonwealth, more students completed MassCore in 2016-2017 than they did in 2012-2013. Historically, more suburban students (86.4 percent average) complete MassCore than rural (76.8 percent average) or urban students (57.8 percent average). Although the gap between suburban and urban completion rates closed slightly over this period (28 percent in 2012-2013; 23 percent in 2016-2017), the gap between suburban and rural completion rates widened (7 percent in 2012-2013; 9 percent in 2016-2017).

Findings

The working group agreed that computer science knowledge and skills are foundational for a well-rounded education in the twenty-first century; whether students decide to become full-fledged computer scientists or pursue other careers, the demand for workers who can engage in logical and abstract thinking, data analysis, creative problem solving, troubleshooting, and collaboration is continuing to increase dramatically. The group agreed that all students should have access to computer science courses, particularly in high school.

Based on an analysis of PK-12 course-taking patterns from the 2016-2017 school year, the report cites disparities in access to standards-aligned computer science education. These disparities disproportionately affect students of color, female students, low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners.

Key findings include:

  • Urban high schools were half as likely to offer computer science as suburban and rural high schools.
  • In schools where computer science is available, regardless of the student demographics of the school, more white and male students participate.
  • Student pass rates in computer science are stratified by race, ethnicity, and special population (e.g., disability or income status).
  • The vast majority of K-12 computer science courses offered in the Commonwealth in 2016-2017 were aligned with less than one-third of the state's DLCS standards.

The report found that Massachusetts made strides in some areas:

  • Adopting DLCS standards and a DLCS teacher license;
  • Inviting educator preparation programs to apply to offer the DLCS teacher license;
  • Designating within the Department a DLCS Content Support Lead;
  • Providing training and resources to support schools and districts implementing the DLCS Curriculum Framework; and
  • Exploring grants and other funding opportunities to provide resources and training to districts.

Recommendations

Acting on these findings requires continued collaboration between the Boards and our respective Departments, as well as school districts and other partners, to promote and expand access to computer science across K–16.

I am recommending that you vote to:

  • affirm our commitment to expanding access to computer science coursework;
  • amend MassCore to allow a computer science course that includes rigorous mathematical or scientific concepts and aligns with the Board's Digital Literacy and Computer Science curriculum standards, to substitute for either a laboratory science course or a mathematics course;
  • initiate a collaborative process with the Department of Higher Education to identify the criteria necessary for computer science courses to be included as substitutions for MassCore mathematics and laboratory science courses; and
  • request that we identify strategic opportunities for increasing the capacity of all educators to teach computer science concepts, as well as increasing as the supply of licensed computer science teachers.

A motion for your consideration is attached. Commissioner Santiago will be asking the Board of Higher Education to vote on a similar resolution at their June 19 meeting, affirming their support for this initiative.

Senior Associate Commissioner Heather Peske and Ken Klau, Director of Instructional Policy, will be available at the June 26 Board meeting to answer your questions.

 

Attachments:

Download PowerPoint File
Report and Recommendations on Increasing Access to Computer Science Presentation
Download Word Document
Access to PK-12 Computer Science Courses in Massachusetts, 2016-2017
 
Motion on Expanding Access to Computer Science

 

Note:




Last Updated: June 18, 2018
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