Eight States Have Fewer Than 10 Girls Take AP Computer Science Exam

More girls are taking the annual AP computer science exam, but boys still outnumber girls when it comes to taking the test. In fact, fewer than 10 girls took the May 2016 exam in eight states, and not a single female took the test in Mississippi and Montana.

These are some of the findings of a state-by-state analysis of newly released data from the College Board by Barbara Ericson, the director of computing outreach and senior research scientist at the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Ericson compiled the data from the College Board, which administers the exam, for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Her numbers differ slightly from the College Board because she did not take Canadian test takers into account.

This year, 54,379 students took the AP computer science A exam in the United States, a 17 percent increase over 2015. Of the U.S. test takers, 23 percent were girls. That’s up from 22 percent last year.

However, the signs were not encouraging in a handful of states:

  • In South Dakota, one out of 26 test takers was a girl;
  • In Wyoming, two out of six test takers were girls;
  • In Kansas, four out of 57 were girls;
  • In North Dakota, six out of 35 were girls;
  • In Alaska, nine out of 60 were girls; and
  • No girls took the test in Mississippi or Montana.

Ericson said studies show girls are often discouraged from going into the field by their teachers and their parents.

“The girls certainly get that message that computer science is not necessarily for you. It’s for the guys,” she said in an interview with Education Week.

As for the states with the highest percentage of girls taking the AP exam, West Virginia leads all others with 36 percent.

The pass rate for girls held steady this year compared to last at 61 percent. But that’s still a few percentage points lower than the overall pass rate this year of 64 percent.

Ericson’s analysis indicated four states where girls performed better than the overall pass rate. In New Jersey, girls had a passing rate of 69 percent. In California and Illinois, girls had a passing rate of 67 percent. In Massachusetts, 66 percent of girls passed.

Ericson also analyzed the state-by-state data according to race and ethnicity. While she found lower rates among African Americans and Latinos compared to the overall pass rate, the College Board has warned against reading too much into such comparisons because of changes in the way this data is collected and reported.

For more of Ericson’s analyses, visit this Education Week story. A complete offering of the College Board’s AP exam data for 2016 can be found on this site.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].