STEM Policy

California CS Standards Designed to Increase Access to CS Instruction for All Students

California CS Standards Designed to Increase Access to CS Instruction for All Students 

By the end of grade 2, a student should be able to explain the functions of common hardware and software components in a computer. By the end of grade 5, he or she should be able to determine potential solutions to solve simple hardware and software problems using common troubleshooting strategies. By the end of grade 8, the student should be able to explain potential security threats and security measures to mitigate threats. And by the end of high school, he or she should be prepared to create data visualizations that can help others better understand real-world phenomena. Those requirements are among the computer science standards recently approved by the California State Board of Education. The process for developing those standards began in 2014 when Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill directing the state's Instructional Quality Commission to undertake development.

The standards were developed by educators who served on an advisory committee, using work already done by the Computer Science Teachers Association. They're designed to increase access to CS instruction for all students as a core subject. As the latest draft published to the Commission's web page explained, "Computer science instruction empowers students, giving them confidence to use computers and computing tools to solve problems. As students learn computer science, they build an understanding of the importance of computing and computing tools. The standards prepare all students to enter college and career as both critical consumers, and also thoughtful creators and innovators of computing technology."

The standards also provide guidance to teachers, including sample lessons, for broadening participation of CS to include students otherwise under-represented. That's an important consideration, officials noted, in a state where 60 percent of the student population is Latinx or African American, but only a quarter of the students who take high school CS courses and 15 percent of tech employees are from those demographic groups.

The standards cover a handful of core computer science concepts:

  • Computing systems;
  • Networks and the internet;
  • Data and analysis;
  • Algorithms and programming; and
  • Impacts of computing.

They also include seven "core" practices:

  • Fostering an inclusive computing culture;
  • Collaborating around computing;
  • Recognizing and defining computational problems;
  • Developing and using abstractions;
  • Creating computational artifacts;
  • Testing and refining computational artifacts; and
  • Communicating about computing.

It makes sense to address CS as an academic requirement in a "forward-leaning state [that's] home to Silicon Valley," noted State Board Member Trish Williams, in a statement. "California's new standards will not only enable students to understand how their digital world works but will encourage critical thinking and discussion about the broader ethical and social implications and questions related to the growing capabilities of technology."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson added that he expected the new standards to help improve CS education in California and support students as future employees. "California's economy, including a high-tech industry that leads the world, will also benefit because employers will be able to hire workers with a better understanding of computer science and technology, and the skills to use technology to solve problems."

Next, the state agency will finalize a plan for scaling up CS education, including how to support teachers. That's expected to be approved by March 2019.

Draft versions of the standards are available on the state's "Computer Science Education" website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.