9 Dots Academy Students Pass the 2019 AP CSP Exam

9 Dots 2019 AP CSP students line up to take the test!

9 Dots 2019 AP CSP students line up to take the test!

On May 10, 2019, twelve 6th and 7th grade 9 Dots Academy students took the Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) exam. This week, 9 Dots received scoring data for eight of those students: two passed the test and an additional three were close to passing.

This is an extraordinary accomplishment. It is extremely rare for middle school students to take the AP CSP exam, much less earn a passing score. Nearly 80% of AP test takers across all subjects are in the 11th and 12th grades, and less than half a percent are in grades 8 and under.

But stereotypes about computer science (CS) ability and who belongs in a CS class start early. From preschool on, girls, low-income students, and students of color disproportionately lack access to the early CS education, peers, and role models that support interest and persistence in computing. By the end of high school, “only 16% of students who participate in AP CSP are students of color.” 

9 Dots believes that early exposure to the AP CSP course and exam can help disrupt the effects of structural and social barriers that prevent underrepresented students from pursuing CS. With the philanthropic support of Riot Games, Verizon, and the National Science Foundation, our Academy After-school served 100 diverse Los Angeles area Title I school students in grades 3-7 with accelerated coding classes in the 2018-19 school year, including fifteen AP CSP students.

Following the release of the AP CSP exam test scores, 9 Dots hosted a roundtable conversation with a small group of the 9 Dots AP CSP exam test takers to reflect on the course and their experience taking the test. Students told us that they enjoyed the creative and project-based approach to CS fundamentals and problem solving in the 9 Dots course, but emphasized the difficulty of the assignments. One 6th grade student, Elizabeth, described the course as “the hardest thing in the history of everything. But when I got my project done, I was super happy, because I actually figured it all out by myself.” 

Students also shared how confronting bugs in code and working through errors step by step with their instructor helped them build confidence. Each student connected taking the course and the exam to their personal aspirations. From getting into college, to future careers in medicine, filmmaking, or software development, students believed a foundation in CS skills would help them achieve their goals. Dion, a 7th grade student, suggested that he was preparing for a future career that may not exist yet.

9 Dots AP CSP course participants and test takers in 9 Dots courtyard, July 2019

9 Dots AP CSP course participants and test takers in 9 Dots courtyard, July 2019

At the time of our discussion, most students did not yet know their scores on the AP CSP exam. When asked how they thought they did on the test, many shook their heads and expressed a rueful amazement at how difficult it was. “It’s just not like any other school test,” 7th grade student Alvin noted. Yet when students were asked if they would take the AP CSP test again, each one answered without hesitation, “Yes.”  Louis, a 6th grade student, explained that he would like to take the test again because it “wouldn’t be as stressful now that I have an idea of what it is going to be like. It would help my future for college and career,” he added. “If you pass you feel like all the hard work paid off.”

Advice for other students taking the AP CSP for the first time? Alvin says, “Take the test seriously. You have to actually study really hard for this test.” Elizabeth says, “Try your best.” Natalie says “Pay attention. Don’t give up.”

Myshel Prasad