Washington’s high school students may have a greater incentive to take Advanced Placement computer science courses in the future, which state lawmakers hope will spur more school districts to offer the classes.
A measure approved by the state Legislature would allow AP computer science to count as a high school math or science course, rather than only as an elective class.
That means students could count AP computer science toward their high school graduation requirements, as long as they still complete Algebra II and at least one lab-based science class. The class could also be used to meet math admission requirements for four-year universities.
The bill was a top priority this year for the education reform group Stand for Children. Dave Powell, the group’s lobbyist, said the bill is a huge step forward for improving how the state educates students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, collectively known in the education-policy world as STEM.
Another high-profile proposal by Gov. Jay Inslee to create a STEM education advisory council didn’t pass the Legislature during the regular session.
Lawmakers and Inslee have said repeatedly that the state needs to better prepare its students to enter STEM career fields. A March report commissioned by the Washington Roundtable, a coalition of business executives, estimated that 25,000 jobs went unfilled in the past year in Washington state, and 80 percent of them are in technology, science and health fields.
Allowing AP computer science to count as high school math or science credit is a way to start training students early for high-tech jobs, said state Rep. Drew Hansen,
“This bill will encourage students across the state to look at AP computer science that otherwise wouldn’t,” said Hansen, sponsor of House Bill 1472.
Students are under significant pressure to take as many math and science courses as possible to improve their college applications, Hansen said. His bill would make sure that AP computer science is denoted as a math course on students’ high school transcripts when they take it in their senior year.
“We could have the next Bill Gates sitting in a high school classroom right now, not even thinking about AP computer science,” Hansen said. “This could light a fire under them, and they could go on to found the next Microsoft.”
The bill originally would have included grant money for school districts to offer more AP computer science classes, but that funding was stripped from the bill when it went through the Senate Ways & Means Committee.
According to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, only 35 high schools in the state offer AP Computer Science, and just under 1,200 students were enrolled in those courses in the 2011-2012 school year.
In the South Sound, only a handful of schools teach AP computer science, according to a list provided by OSPI. They are Emerald Ridge High School in the Puyallup School District; Bonney Lake High School in the Sumner School District; and Auburn Riverside High School in the Auburn School District. The New Market Skills Center based in Tumwater also offers the class.
Rebecca Japhet, a spokeswoman for the Olympia School District, said that Olympia High School also teaches AP computer science, though the school wasn’t included in OSPI’s list of schools that offer the course.
State schools superintendent Randy Dorn said that even with no money attached, the bill still will encourage more districts to offer AP computer science classes, because students have a reason to take it.
Students who opt to take AP computer science would still be required to complete basic math courses through Algebra II.
Inslee hopes to do more for STEM education this year by reviving his idea to create a STEM education advisory council when lawmakers reconvene May 13. His proposal would require the council to issue an annual report card on how the state is educating students in math and science, as well as on the availability of STEM jobs.
“This is something we really need in the state of Washington,” Inslee said Tuesday. “I think it has every prospect of eventually becoming law, because it’s just a common-sense thing based on the high-technology economy we have.”
Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209