The Quantum Pontiff

AP Computer Science AB Cut

The very first AP class I took in high school was the Computer Science AB test. Today, I learn from the Washington Post, that the Computer Science AB test is on the chopping block (along with Italian, Latin literature, and French literature.)

The AP Computer Science AB test is a superset of the AP Computer Science A test, yet I cannot help but thinking that this is a sad day for computer science education. Among the topics which are (or were) in the AB test but not in the A test are (or were)

  • Two-dimensional arrays
  • Linked lists (singly, doubly, circular)
  • Stacks
  • Queues
  • Trees
  • Heaps
  • Priority queues
  • Sets
  • Maps
  • Hashing
  • Quicksort
  • Heapsort
  • Big-O notation

Ah, those are all good, dear, friends (However, I don’t remember having to study Priority queues or maps when I took the test.)

Comments

  1. #1 meerasedai
    April 4, 2008

    This is indeed sad. I took that exam as well, and honestly I may not have even majored in computer science if it weren’t for my high school class on the subject.

    (we also didn’t cover priority queues nor maps by the way).

  2. #2 bsci
    April 4, 2008

    I also saw this in the post, but the article seemed to focus more on language than the CS AB. I didn’t see anything on the AP website about this. I’m curious why the test was unpopular. My best guess is that, just like you hint at, it cover much more material than most college CS classes. Perhaps high school CS teachers (and students) preferred a less rushed pace and the super advanced courses focused on only some of these topics, but in more depth than the CS AB exam. The CS AB seems like both an intro CS and intro data structures course combined.
    In high school, my class was geared towards the A exam and we were given extra stuff to read if we wanted to take the AB. The A class was a bit slow, but I do feel that if they covered everything in AB, it would have probably been a bit too intense.

    Perhaps the solution could have been to cut some topics from the AB. Many things on that list are fairly modular and could have been removed without affecting other modules.

  3. #3 sam
    April 4, 2008

    All of those topics were related to computer programming which is low level, mundane work better suited to low cost labor from third world countries. Perhaps we can replace those with more appropriate courses like Retail Management and Mandarin Chinese.

  4. #4 Dave Bacon
    April 4, 2008

    Yeah, we should also replace all basic math classes with Mandarin Chinese. What’s with all the Lou Dobbs comments around here lately?

    BTW if I remember correctly, I think I self studied for the part of the AB exam which was for data structures.

  5. #5 bsci
    April 4, 2008

    Like I said, I self studied for the AB part too. Perhaps the issue was that none of the teachers could figure out how to cover all that material for typical AP high school students at a reasonable pace. Still, it’s sad that they didn’t try to rethink a more advanced AP CS exam rather than just dumping it. I do wonder if the actual # have teachers and test takers has declined recently or if they were just pulling the test along for years since it didn’t feel right to pull the plug on it.

  6. #6 Frederick Ross
    April 4, 2008

    The tests are developed by a for-profit entity. What do you expect? These are all tests where the number of students is small, certainly not justifying the cost of producing the tests. Not to mention that the tests are often bizarre. AP compsci continues to be in languages like C++ and Java despite all the careful work on teaching in Scheme. French literature’s reading list included items so obscure that I was told in the university bookstore in Dijon, after the staff searched for twenty minutes through computer catalogs, that it would take them two months to get some of the texts. In French, which has a well defined canon, this is absurd. Latin literature, on the other hand, was a decent test, but I doubt there are more than a handful of schools in the country who even try to teach Latin to the level of reading Catullus or Virgil.

  7. #7 joemac53
    April 4, 2008

    Last year the College Board began a course audit to make sure the class you taught was up to snuff to carry the AP label. It was a lot of work to get a syllabus that was realistic and met their requirements.

    They may have discovered that there were not enough high school courses with enough rigor to keep the test alive. My school had programming in the past, but not at the AP level. We have become computer users rather than programmers. I teach Calc and Physics, and I miss my old programming students. I used their knowledge and talents in my classes all the time.

  8. #8 Scott Aaronson
    April 6, 2008

    My high school didn’t offer AP CS, but I decided to take the AB test anyway. Studying for it was my first exposure to any sort of CS theory.

    CS education is a threat to many people’s pet ideas about the world: that CS is not a real subject and is devoid of intellectual content. That everything having to do with computers is mundane and technical, and should (therefore) be outsourced to China and India. That if we must teach CS, we should at least focus on applications, and get rid of any math or logical thought. That CS is passť, a 20th-century relic that was long ago superseded by the life sciences (haven’t computer scientists gotten the message yet?). Against this backdrop, it’s not surprising that the AB test is being discontinued; what’s surprising is that it lasted this long.

  9. #9 Jonathan Vos Post
    April 6, 2008

    The Pasadena Unified School District, where I’ve taught summer school (Algebra 1) and a plethora of other subjects, does not consider Computer Science (in which I have a M.S. and a PhD.[ABD]) to be a subject at all. They do have computer labs for students to cut & paste from wikipedia, and word process. One high school has an Advanced PhotoShop class. One of the High School Math Chairs was working towards a PhD in CS but got sidetracked by having 5 children of her own.

    I agree with Scott Aaronson’s cynicism here. It’s a bad sign when giant retail chains have keyboards with photos of food, rather than those pesky letters and digits.

    “Would you like fries with that?”

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