No black girls took the AP computer science exam in two states. Cause for alarm?

300 girls SEEK mississippi

The Mississippi chapter of the NBSE chose 300 girls to be part of SEEK, its nation-wide summer institute

(Image credit: used with permission of The Mississippi Link)

Although almost 40% of the citizens of Mississippi are black, not one black girl took the Advanced Placement (AP) computer science last year. I was dismayed when I heard the story but after doing some digging, I don’t think the statistics are as alarming as the news made it seem.

It’s not surprising that in addition to Montana, which has very few people of color period, that Mississippi would be one of the states where zero black girls took the computer science AP exam. Mississippi is one of the poorer states in the country and as a result the state tends to poorly on most education measures including required textbooks for students.

There are many explanations as to why students in Mississippi lag behind the rest of the nation in education but the reasons all boil down to poverty. Mississippi has the highest percentage of children living in poverty and one of the lowest median income. In a nutshell, it’s a poor state and so Mississippi schools tend to offer few, if any, AP classes. In fact, the entire state of “Mississippi only administered one AP computer science exam“.

Should we alarmed?

Relax! Good things are happening in Mississippi too.

There are, however, some good things happening for girls in Mississippi who are interested in S.T.E.M. fields. For instance, last year THREE HUNDRED black girls participated in the NBSE’s SEEK program in Mississippi and not surprisingly it went unnoticed in the media. I can’t help but agree with the executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Dr. Carl B. Mack:

    Mack lamented over the great media attention that captures every negative act in the black neighborhood, when so few showed up to witness the efforts to change the lives of particularly black girls in Mississippi – one little girl at a time.

Furthermore, using the number AP courses that are offered at a school as part of a rubric for what is considered a “good” school, blinds us to what is happening in Mississippi’s schools. As Diane Ravitch points out, the only way to properly assess what is happening in a school is to actually visit the school. Ms. Ravitch stressed on her blog that a hyperfocus on standardized exams such as the AP prevents us from seeing that there are good schools behind the “underperforming” label.

So I close with a statement from the Mississippi Meridian newspaper after its entire editorial board visited Meridian High School:

    Based on our tour of the school, the school’s grade should be higher. School performance is not always accurately measured solely by test-based accountability ratings like “A,” “B,” or “F.”

    “We challenge our state legislators to tour Meridian High School and other schools where passionate teachers are working with willing students. Perhaps then they might take another look at the standardized test-based accountability laws that govern our schools and take other factors into consideration as well.”

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One thought on “No black girls took the AP computer science exam in two states. Cause for alarm?

  1. Great post. It is too easy to be up in arms about scores that can be seen differently based on numbers. There are schools that do not offer that course in order for the students to take the test. Legislators are probably afraid to go the schools because they would be faced with more accountability than they can handle.

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