Study: AP Computer Science Test-takers Overwhelmingly Male, White

Cultural perceptions about who's best at tech--and access to the elite public education--are primary factors.

By Julianne Hing Jan 15, 2014

A new national study of 2013 AP Computer Science test takers found that it’s not just the professional tech world that’s an overwhelmingly white and male arena. The tech education pipeline is the same as well. In eight U.S. states, not one Latino student took 2013’s AP Computer Science exam, and zero black students took the exam in 11 states. Meanwhile zero female students took the test in three U.S. states. Altogether, it meant that in Mississippi and Montana, not a single female, black or Latino student took the exam. The figures come from a study released in December by Barbara Ericson, the director of computing research and a senior researcher at Georgia Tech University.

"We were not surprised by Barbara Ericson’s findings because unfortunately, computing courses have historically been dominated by white, male students," the College Board told Education Week. Our dominant culture sells technology and science as a white and male pursuit, it’s true. But the flipside is that high-level science and computing courses–the kind which encourage students not just to do their homework on iPads but to understand how computers work in the first place–are typically not pitched as girl-friendly, or even offered in the underresourced schools where students of color are concentrated. 

The distribution is only ever so slowly improving, but for black students in particular, it’s worsening. In 2006, girls were 17 percent of AP Computer Science exam takers and made up 18.5 percent of the students taking the 2013 test. Black students were less than 5 percent of 2006’s AP Computer Science exam takers and just 3.6 of those who took the exam last year. Latino students were 7.6 percent in 2006, and 8.1 percent of 2013’s test-takers. In 2006 Asian-American students were a fifth of the national test-taking pool and last year they were 28.6 percent. White students were 58 percent of the 2006 test-takers and 54 percent of the test-taking pool. 

(h/t Education Week)