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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Substituting a Computer Science Course for a MassCore Mathematics or Laboratory Science Course: Courses and Criteria for Inclusion

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner
Date:
January 11, 2019

In June 2018, the Board of Higher Education (BHE) and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) voted to direct their respective Commissioners to identify the computer science courses to be included as substitutions for a MassCore mathematics or laboratory science course, and the criteria for inclusion, by December 31, 2018. This memorandum updates the BESE on our progress with this initiative.

Background

On January 23, 2018, the BESE and BHE agreed to form a working group to develop a long-term strategy to:

  • enable many more students graduating from Massachusetts public high schools to study computer science as part of MassCore, the recommended program of studies in high school;
  • increase the number of students interested in pursuing computer science as a field of study in postsecondary education; and
  • by extension, increase the number of students interested in pursuing careers in technology following graduation from a postsecondary institution.

Acting on the conclusions of the working group, which found disparities in access to standards-aligned computer science education, particularly in high school, the BESE and BHE each voted in June 2018 to amend MassCore to allow a computer science course to substitute for a MassCore mathematics or laboratory science course. Each board directed the Commissioners to collaborate and identify the courses and inclusion criteria by December 31, 2018, following which the Commissioners would report back to their respective boards. The BHE further voted that the criteria be developed in consultation with disciplinary experts in the higher education community and ensure sufficient course rigor, course quality, and student preparedness for college-level course taking; and ensure alignment with parallel efforts to develop Math Pathways from pre-kindergarten through four years of postsecondary education (P-16 Math Pathways).

Activities of the Working Group

Between June 2018 and December 2018, staff from the Departments of Higher Education (DHE) and Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) drafted recommendations for identifying courses and criteria aligned to the 2016 Digital Literacy and Computer Science Curriculum Framework and analyzed data from the 2017-2018 school year to model the potential impact of the recommendations on high school course taking. Subsequently, DHE and DESE staff consulted a working group consisting of representatives from secondary and higher education with expertise in mathematics, science and technology/engineering, and computer science to review the recommendations (Appendix A). The group met three times: December 12, 14, and 19, 2018.

The working group identified the initial set of 12 courses that can be included as substitutions for MassCore mathematics and laboratory science courses, clarified the criteria for including additional courses, and drafted recommendations for local implementation.

Eligible Computer Science Courses

  1. Advanced Placement® Computer Science Principles (10 courses): Advanced Placement® Computer Science Principles is not a single course; rather, schools and organizations submit curricular materials to the College Board for audit to ensure they meet or exceed the College Board's expectations as articulated in the AP® Computer Science Principles Curriculum Framework. As of this writing, the College Board has endorsed ten (10) courses1, including preapproved syllabi, lesson plans, formative assessments, and professional development: https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/courses/ap-computer-science-principles/classroom-resources/curricula-pedagogical-support.

  2. Computer Science Principles (1 course): Computer Science Principles is an open source curriculum developed by Code.org®, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities. Based on the AP® Computer Science Principles Curriculum Framework, CSP can be taught as an AP® course or a non- AP® course: https://code.org/educate/csp.

  3. Exploring Computer Science (1 course): Exploring Computer Science is an open source curriculum developed by UCLA and the University of Oregon. Exploring Computer Science was explicitly designed to expand participation in computing by traditionally underrepresented students in terms of enrollment, access, knowledge and skills, problem-solving, and attitudes. Exploring Computer Science is pedagogically and conceptually aligned to the AP® Computer Science Principles Curriculum Framework: http://www.exploringcs.org/.

Criteria for Including Additional Computer Science Courses as Substitutions for MassCore Mathematics or Laboratory Science Courses

  1. Alignment with Admissions Requirements for the State's Public Colleges and Universities: The Board of Higher Education's Undergraduate Admissions Standards for the Massachusetts State University System and the University of Massachusetts permit the crediting of a high school computer science course as a mathematics or laboratory science course based on the inclusion of rigorous mathematical or science concepts and topics. To meet this criterion, the working group determined that a computer science course must provide substantial opportunities for students to apply the Standards for Mathematical Practice for high school described on pages 16-18 of the 2017 Mathematics Curriculum Framework Download PDF Document (if substituting for a mathematics course), or the Science and Engineering Practices for high school as described on pages 66-67 of the 2016 Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework Download PDF Document (if substituting for a laboratory science course). These practices, each of which emphasizes the application of skills, knowledge, and dispositions characteristic of expert mathematicians or scientists in their respective fields, are amply represented in the 2016 Digital Literacy and Computer Science (DLCS) Curriculum Framework Download PDF Document for grades 9-12 (Appendix B). Therefore, a high school computer science course aligned to the 2016 DLCS Curriculum Framework for grades 9-12 also aligns to the Standards for Mathematical Practice and the Science and Engineering Practices for grades 9-12.

  2. Alignment with the 2016 DLCS Curriculum Framework for Grades 9-12. To meet this criterion, a computer science course must substantially align to the standards in each of the four strands of the framework (Appendix C). For example, the initial set of 12 courses identified as substitutions for MassCore mathematics and laboratory science courses address 88 percent of the framework, but would cover 100 percent with minimal modifications.

  3. Sufficient Course Rigor, Quality, and Student Preparedness for College: To meet this criterion, a computer science course must be conceptually and pedagogically aligned to the College Board's expectations for introductory computer science courses, specifically the learning objectives delineated in the AP® Computer Science Principles Curriculum Framework.

  4. Equivalent to a Full Year of Learning: To meet this criterion, a computer science course must be considered a full year course, but it would not mean that students must be "seated" in a class for a specific number of hours to receive credit for the course. Districts have the authority to award credit to students who "test out of," recover, or accelerate a course, depending on individual district policies. Further, competency-based courses, in which students advance and earn credit upon demonstrated mastery, would also be eligible.

  5. Aligned to P-16 Math Pathways: The working group was also charged with ensuring alignment with parallel efforts to develop Math Pathways from pre-kindergarten through four years of postsecondary education (P-16 Math Pathways). The P-16 Math Pathways framework proposes organizing introductory college mathematics courses around four mathematics pathways aligned to the appropriate math for a major: calculus for STEM majors, college algebra for elementary education, quantitative reasoning, and statistics. While none of the proposed pathways prohibit high school students from substituting, a student in the first pathway (calculus for STEM majors) may elect to take a full complement of mathematics and sciences courses in addition to computer science (i.e., as an elective).

Recommendations for Local Implementation

The working group recommends that when substituting a computer science course for a mathematics course, students, parents/guardians, guidance counselors, and teachers should consider the following:

  • All students should take algebra I and algebra II;
  • Students should consider taking computer science following geometry and prior to algebra II; and
  • All students should take a mathematics course in their senior year.

An analysis of course taking data from the 2017-2018 school year indicated that over 90 percent of Massachusetts high school students could have substituted a computer science course for a mathematics course within these parameters.

Next Steps

To facilitate student course taking decisions for the 2019-2020 school year, DESE will share the list of computer science courses eligible for substitution and provide information to districts on how to access curricular materials and professional development for teaching those courses. DESE will also adjust the calculation for MassCore completion to reflect the substitution option. Finally, DESE will use student course-taking data and educator licensure data to periodically update the BESE on the progress the state is making to expand student access to computer science instruction in pre-K-12.

Attachments

Download Word Document
Appendix A: Working Group Members

Download Word Document
Appendix B: Opportunities to Apply the Standards for Mathematical Practice and the Science and Engineering Practices in the 2016 DLCS Curriculum Framework

Download Word Document
Appendix C: Determining Alignment of Computer Science Courses with the 2016 DLCS Curriculum Framework

 

Note:


1 All AP® CSP courses taught in Massachusetts are reported to DESE with a single course code.



Last Updated: January 16, 2019
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