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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

College and Career Readiness

September 2021


What research is available on practices to increase enrollment in advanced placement (AP) science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses, in particular computer science?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on practices to increase enrollment in Advanced Placement (AP) science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses. In particular, we focused on identifying resources related to increasing enrollment in AP computer science courses. For details on the databases and sources, key words, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Alvarado, S. E., & Muniz, P. (2018). Racial and ethnic heterogeneity in the effect of MESA on AP STEM coursework and college STEM major aspirations. Research in Higher Education, 59(7), 933–957.

From the ERIC abstract: “Previous research suggests that racial and ethnic disparities in postsecondary STEM outcomes are rooted much earlier in the educational pipeline. One possible remedy to these disparities is participation in early STEM enrichment programs. We examine the impact of MESA, which is an early program that targets socioeconomically disadvantaged students, on outcomes that may lead students down the path to STEM. We analyze three waves of restricted nationally-representative data from the High School Longitudinal Study that trace the STEM progress of more than 25,000 students throughout high school and into their postsecondary careers. Propensity score matching models reveal that MESA participation increases students’ odds of taking AP STEM courses in high school and their aspirations for declaring a STEM major in college. However, these effects are driven primarily by black and white students, respectively. Latino and Asian students remain largely unaffected. A formal sensitivity analysis concludes that these findings are moderately robust to unobserved confounding. The results are also robust to alternative matching schemes. Collectively, the findings suggest that MESA may improve black students’ high school STEM engagement but may have little impact on black and Latino students’ STEM outcomes in college.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Boda, P. A., & McGee, S. (2021). Broadening participation and success in AP CSA: Predictive modeling from three years of data. In Proceedings of the 52nd ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (pp. 626–632).

From the ERIC abstract: “The AP Computer Science A course and exam continually exhibit inequity among over- and under-represented populations. This paper explored three years of AP CS A data in the Chicago Public School district (CPS) from 2016-2019 (N = 561). We analyzed the impact of teacher and student-level variables to determine the extent AP CS A course taking and exam passing differences existed between over- and under-represented populations. Our analyses suggest four prominent findings: (1) CPS, in collaboration with their Research-Practice Partnership (Chicago Alliance for Equity in Computer Science; CAFÉCS), is broadening participation for students taking the AP CS A course; (2) Over- and under-represented students took the AP CS A exam at statistically comparable rates, suggesting differential encouragement to take or not take the AP CS A exam was not prevalent among these demographics; (3) After adjusting for teacher and student-level prior experience, there were no significant differences among over- and under-represented racial categorizations in their likelihoods to pass the AP CS A exam, albeit Female students were 3.3 times less likely to pass the exam than Males overall; (4) Taking the Exploring Computer Science course before AP CS A predicted students being 3.5 times more likely to pass the AP CS A exam than students that did not take ECS before AP CS A. Implications are discussed around secondary computer science course sequencing and lines of inquiry to encourage even greater broadening of participation in the AP CS A course and passing of the AP CS A exam.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Burnett, A., & Burkander, P. (2021). Advanced Placement participation, staffing, and staff training in the District of Columbia Public Schools (REL 2021-077). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic.

From the ERIC abstract: “To expand participation in Advanced Placement (AP) courses, several District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) high schools have enacted a policy mandating that all students enroll in one or more AP courses. To promote quality instruction in AP courses, DCPS recommends regular teacher participation in the Advanced Placement Summer Institute (APSI) and is considering recommending that teachers’ college major be factored into teacher assignments to AP courses. To better understand this policy and these recommendations, this study examined students’ AP exam taking and passing rates in schools that mandate AP course enrollment and in schools that do not, teacher participation in the APSI, and the alignment of AP teachers’ college major with the AP course they teach. Three of the four high schools that adopted a mandate on AP course enrollment during the study period had higher AP exam taking and passing rates after their mandate went into place. In three of the five schools that adopted a mandate before or during the study period, the passing rate (grade 10–12 students in the school who passed at least one AP exam as a percentage of all grade 10–12 students in the school) was below 20 percent in every year of the study period, and in a fourth it was below 50 percent in every year. Fewer than one-fifth of AP teachers participated in the APSI at least once every three years. Participation rates were higher in schools offering more AP courses, in schools with lower percentages of racial/ethnic minority students, among teachers whose college major aligned with the AP course they taught, and among more experienced teachers. Among AP teachers with a college major on record, about half had a college major aligned with each specific AP course they taught, and 70 percent had a college major aligned with the broad subject area of each AP course they taught.”

Goldsmith, L. T., Stanton, J., & Harunani, F. (2020). Seeking equitable computer science education in Massachusetts: How well are we doing? Education Development Center.

From the ERIC abstract: “This report explores Massachusetts’ progress toward achieving equity in computer science (CS) education. The authors examine 12 years of Advanced Placement CS data, identifying both successes and ongoing challenges to equitable CS education in the Commonwealth. The authors also raise questions to help inform future decision-making and policymaking.”

Greenman, M. D., & Duffy, A. (2018). Project Accelerate: Bringing AP® Physics 1 to underserved students. The Physics Teacher, 56(9), 626–629.

From the ERIC abstract: “Economically disadvantaged and underrepresented high school students in many urban, rural, and small suburban communities don’t have access to Advanced Placement® (AP®) courses either because of a lack of trained teachers, limited or no AP program, or a school history of low participation. Physics is often a ‘gate keeper’ course to entry into physical science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers and academic programs. Lacking opportunity to access rigorous physics courses in high school, these demographic groups are hard pressed to compete in STEM fields and academic programs with their peers from more affluent communities. Project Accelerate is a partnership program between Boston University (BU) and the nation’s high schools combining the supportive infrastructures from the students’ traditional school with a highly interactive private edX online instructional tool to bring a College Board accredited AP Physics 1 course to schools not offering this opportunity. During the 2015-16 academic year, Boston University piloted this model with four Boston Public School (BPS) high schools and three small suburban high schools. During the first year of the pilot, students enrolled in Project Accelerate outperformed their peer groups enrolled in traditional AP Physics 1 classrooms.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Judson, E. (2017). Science and mathematics Advanced Placement exams: Growth and achievement over time. Journal of Educational Research, 110(2), 209–217.

From the ERIC abstract: “Rapid growth of Advanced Placement (AP) exams in the last 2 decades has been paralleled by national enthusiasm to promote availability and rigor of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Trends were examined in STEM AP to evaluate and compare growth and achievement. Analysis included individual STEM subjects and disaggregation by ethnicity. Analysis indicates growth in STEM AP was extraordinary but was slightly outmatched by non-AP subjects. Moreover, growth in STEM AP has been most pronounced among underrepresented minorities, even though their achievement has slightly declined. Interestingly, the proportion of students scoring at the lowest level grew steadily for all students from 1997 to 2010, yet this proportion was substantially less for Asian and White students compared to underrepresented minorities. Finally, it was found that achievement in most high-participation STEM subjects slightly decreased from 1998 to 2013, while achievement held steady or slightly increased in lower participation STEM AP subjects.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Judson, E., Bowers, N. L., & Glassmeyer, K. (2019). Recruiting and encouraging students to complete Advanced Placement science and math courses and exams: Policies and practices. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 42(3), 243–265.

From the ERIC abstract: “Although several studies have reported Advanced Placement (AP) growth, little attention has been paid to school- and classroom-level strategies that encourage students to enroll into AP courses and complete AP exams. This study focused on determining goals emphasized, and strategies used, by science and math teachers (N = 143). Results indicated teachers believe the greatest value of AP is in providing college-type experiences and boosting subject confidence; they place less importance on goals of students earning passing scores and improving college admission chances. Comparison based on school socioeconomic status indicated Title I teachers view AP as having greater value and are significantly more likely to require students to complete AP exams than non-Title I teachers. Title I teachers used twice the amount of strategies to convince students to complete AP exams. Interestingly, more than one third of the teachers enticed students by waiving final exams in lieu of completing AP exams.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Nager, A., & Atkinson, R. (2016). The case for improving U.S. computer science education. NCSSS Journal, 21(1), 18–19.

From the ERIC abstract: “Despite the growing use of computers and software in every facet of our economy, not until recently has computer science education begun to gain traction in American school systems. The current focus on improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the U.S. School system has disregarded differences within STEM fields. Indeed, the most important STEM field for a modern economy is not only one that is not represented by its own initial in ‘STEM’ but also the field with the fewest number of high school students taking its classes. It is also by far the one that has the most room for improvement, and that is computer science. Among the key findings in this report: (1) Only a quarter of high schools offer computer science, and often these courses lack rigor or focus on computer use or just coding instead of delving into computer science principles; (2) Only 18 percent of schools accredited to offer advanced placement exams offer the computer science AP exam; (3) Access to computer science is concentrated in affluent schools; (4) Only 22 percent of students who take the AP exam in computer science are female, the largest gender disparity of any AP exam; (5) Less than 10 percent of students who take the AP computer science exam are Hispanic, and less than 4 percent are black; and (6) Access to computer science is also limited at universities. This report offers a series of policy recommendations to improve computer science education in the United States. They include: (1) Policymakers should reform curricula to focus on core concepts of computer science in primary and secondary schools and provide resources to train and recruit high-quality computer science teachers; (2) All states should allow computer science to count as either a math or science requirement, and more STEM-intensive public high schools that give students in-depth exposure to computer science should be established to allow students with the aptitude and interest in computer science to more deeply explore the subject; and (3) Universities should be incentivized to expand their offerings in computer science and prioritize retaining students interested in majoring, minoring, or taking courses in computer science. Not only is computer science a powerful educational tool for fostering critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity, computer skills and competencies are in high demand among employers in a wide range of industries, not just the tech industry.”

Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic. (2021). Expanding access to Advanced Placement courses. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.

From the introduction: “In the most recent AP Report to the Nation, the College Board reported that the number of students taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams increased 95 percent in the past 10 years. In addition, the number of students from families with low incomes taking exams nearly quadrupled. These increases reflect efforts by the College Board, the federal government, states, districts, and foundations to increase access to AP courses, particularly for historically disadvantaged groups of students. This fact sheet looks at strategies that schools and districts use to expand students’ access to AP courses and exams as well as the results of a new study on policies to promote AP participation in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).”

Sherman, D., Li, Y., Darwin, M., Taylor, S., & Song, M. (2017). Final report of the impacts of the National Math+ Science Initiative’s (NMSI’s) College Readiness Program on high school students’ outcomes. American Institutes for Research.

From the ERIC abstract: “The National Math + Science Initiative’s (NMSI’s) College Readiness Program (CRP) is an established program whose goal is to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education in high schools to improve students’ readiness for college. It provides teacher, student, and school supports to promote high school students’ success in mathematics, science, and English Advanced Placement (AP) courses, with a focus on students who are traditionally underrepresented in the targeted AP courses. Through a federal Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) validation grant awarded to NMSI in 2011, CRP was implemented in a total of 58 high schools in two states—Colorado and Indiana—beginning in the 2012-13 school year. American Institutes for Research (AIR) conducted an independent evaluation of the impacts of CRP on students’ AP outcomes in these schools for the three cohorts of schools that adopted the program in sequential years, using a comparative interrupted time series (CITS) design that matched comparison schools to program schools in the two states. Overall, schools implementing CRP demonstrated significantly larger increases in the share of students taking and passing AP tests in targeted areas relative to comparison schools in each of the three cohorts of schools, and the gains in CRP schools were sustained over time. Fidelity of program implementation was evaluated using a fidelity matrix approach required as part of the National Evaluation of the i3 program, which showed that not all elements of the program were implemented with high fidelity. Teachers and students were not always able to attend all meetings, and schools did not always meet negotiated enrollment targets. Teacher survey data indicated that teachers found the professional development activities provided by CRP to be the most helpful support they received under CRP, and students reported that the tutoring and special study sessions were the most helpful. Although the program provided financial incentives to both teachers and students that were tied to student performance on AP tests, these incentives were considered the least important element of the program by both teachers and students.”

Wurman, Z., & Donovan, W. (2020). Breaking the code: The state of computer science education in America’s public schools (White Paper No. 206). Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research.

From the ERIC abstract: “In the fall of 2019, well before the appearance of COVID-19, there was heightened concern among U.S. business leaders, economists and investors about a global economic slowdown and the possibility of a recession in 2020. But a downturn in the technology sector was not prominent among their worries. In the decade from 2018 to 2028 computer and information technology (CIT) occupations were expected to grow by 12 percent, adding more than half a million new jobs, well above the average for all occupations, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In May of 2018, the median annual wage in CIT occupations was $86,320, well above the median annual wage of $38,640 for all occupations. One reaction to the promising labor market was a leap in undergraduate enrollments in computer science (CS) courses and degree programs at U.S. colleges and universities. The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded nationally in computer and information science had increased by 74 percent at not-for-profit institutions between 2009 and 2015, compared to a 16 percent increase in bachelor’s degrees produced overall. This paper reports on the findings in terms of how CS education is implemented and promoted across the United States, yet it takes no position on the actual need or usefulness of teaching computer science in K-12. Less than half the high schools in the United States teach CS. Girls and students of color are underrepresented in computer science classes. There’s a need for more certified computer science teachers and more states to create CS learning standards. Even as computer science has accelerated research in health care, climate change and communications, it still finds itself behind the traditional disciplines of chemistry, biology, and physics within many high schools.”

Zinth, J. (2016). Advanced Placement: Model policy components (Policy Analysis). Education Commission of the States.

From the ERIC abstract: “Advanced Placement (AP), launched in 1955 by the College Board as a program to offer gifted high school students the opportunity to complete entry-level college coursework, has since expanded to encourage a broader array of students to tackle challenging content. This Education Commission of the State’s Policy Analysis identifies key components of a comprehensive state AP policy, as well as model state policies, primarily from Arkansas, that align with each component. This analysis also provides a brief summary of subject areas in which AP courses and exams are currently offered, reasons states and districts are expanding AP access, and research supporting expansion of AP opportunities.”

Zinth, J. (2016). Computer science in high school graduation requirements (Education Trends; Updated). Education Commission of the States.

From the ERIC abstract: “Computer science and coding skills are widely recognized as a valuable asset in the current and projected job market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 37.5 percent growth from 2012 to 2022 in the ‘computer systems design and related services’ industry—from 1,620,300 jobs in 2012 to an estimated 2,229,000 jobs in 2022. Yet some reports point to an alarming absence of female and minority students in courses such as Advanced Placement (AP) computer science. Of AP Computer Science A exam takers in the Class of 2013, 81 percent were male and 82.5 percent were white or Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islander. reports nine out of 10 K-12 schools do not offer computer programming coursework. This ECS Education Trends report identifies states that are allowing or requiring districts to apply computer science coursework toward completion of high school graduation requirements in math, science, or foreign language. This report also highlights several states that require computer science courses to fulfill requirements for a specialized diploma or endorsement to the standard high school diploma.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “Advanced placement” “computer science”

  • “Advanced placement” increase enrollment

  • “Advanced placement” “STEM Education”

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2006 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.