Why No Black Students Took the AP Computer Science Test in 11 States in 2013 and What I Intend to Do About It

Philip Emeagwali, computer scientist who black students can be inspired by.

There has been a lot of speculation concerning the lack of black students in technology fields.  Consistently, critics of policies promoting greater inclusiveness and differentiation of teaching strategies have argued that the reason for the disparities are rooted in mental capability and interest–not in structural problems.

Statistics released by the AP College Board in January of 2014 reveal some troubling disparities:

  • 11 states had no Black students take the exam: Alaska (21 exam takers -4.3% Black by population), Idaho (47 – 0.9% Black), Kansas (47 – 6.2% Black), Maine (161 – 1.0%), Mississippi (1 – 37.3%), Montana (11 – 0.67%), Nebraska (46 – 4.5%), New Mexico (57 – 3%), North Dakota (9 – 1%), Utah (103 – 1.2%), and Wyoming (0 – 1.2%).

Some people believe that this is a matter of inherent intelligence, arguing that black students are not good at computer science.  I disagree. I believe that this is a problem largely about pedagogy and less about aptitude.  Recent reports have emphasized how particular problem-based approaches to computer science and other fields have benefited minority students.  There is a lack of accessibility to these approaches and tech courses in many struggling schools where minorities are disproportionately represented.

Surely, in states where more than 25% of the population is African American yet less than ten black students attempt the test, common sense and probability would point to serious questions of accessibility not ability.

I think the solution to addressing this problem will probably not be championed by STEM field professionals alone. Integrated, interdisciplinary, cross-cultural approaches poses significant promise in educating the general public and aspiring STEM students about the barriers preventing access and achievement in the STEM fields by black students. It is necessary to tackle this problem from outside of the self-contained silo that often precludes effective minority recruitment to STEM fields.   This is what I intend to do about it.

1. Have students in my history classes identify the historical reasons for the disparity and write open letters to school districts and educators that should be doing better.

2. Request that the AP College Board donate promotional materials and preparatory resources to districts who have low numbers of black students who are participating in the exam.

3. Raise awareness about the popular misconceptions surrounding this issue.

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