New Study Confirms Need for Valid Computer Science Education Assessments

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New study from Computer Science Teachers Association reveals teachers face challenges in identifying tools and resources for testing students’ knowledge of computer science.

A new study released today by the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) finds there is a dearth of valid and reliable assessments for measuring student learning in computer science (CS) education.

Sowing the Seeds of Assessment Literacy in Secondary Computer Science Education, released during CSTA’s annual conference, highlights the challenges US high school teachers face when examining student understanding of computing concepts and identifying current models for computer science (CS) assessment.

This important landscape study examines the state of CS education assessment and how teachers assess student learning in their computer science classrooms and was conducted by CSTA and sponsored by Google. The study used in-depth interviews with twenty-five high school computer science teachers during the 2014-2015 academic year.

The study found that while CS teachers use a variety of formative and summative assessment techniques and rely on an assortment of sources (test banks, colleagues, even their own undergraduate CS courses), finding valid and reliable assessments to use in their classrooms remains a challenge. Many participants also noted that the variability in how students approach and develop algorithms makes assessment especially challenging and time-consuming.

CSTA recommends the following for the computer science education community:

  • Develop valid and reliable formative and summative assessments for programming languages beyond Java, such as Python, C#, etc.
  • Develop an online repository of assessment items for K–12 computer science teachers.
  • Develop a community of practice surrounding the use of assessment in computer science classrooms.
  • Design and deliver professional development to increase K–12 computer science teachers’ assessment literacy.

CS-related careers are projected to grow significantly over the next several decades (United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012). Despite recent increases in CS enrollment among college and university students, projections indicate that the number of graduates will not be sufficient to meet industry needs. At the same time, there is growing recognition that the pipeline to CS careers, as well as future innovation in CS, can be strengthened by introducing students to these skills and concepts in elementary, middle and high school.

“Computer science education is at a crossroads,” said Dr. Aman Yadav, Associate Professor in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology at Michigan State University and chair of the CSTA Assessment Taskforce. “It is crucial that schools, school districts and state education leaders not only provide access to CS for all students, but also equip teachers with the tools and resources they need to understand if and how their students are learning and understanding the concepts that will prepare them for the jobs of the future.”

“We are grateful to Google for supporting this study, and not surprised the findings reinforce the need for the broader computer science education community to come together and give our teachers the support they need to teach real computer science, assess their efforts and accommodate the many different learning speeds and styles in the classroom,” said CSTA Executive Director Dr. Mark R. Nelson. “We found that teachers are very resourceful in finding and using a multitude of different assessments. CSTA is excited to build on these findings and is researching a new project to create a repository of assessment resources to meet the growing CS teaching field’s needs.”

To review the complete results from this study visit

About The Computer Science Teachers Association
The Computer Science Teachers Association is a membership organization that supports and promotes the teaching of computer science and other computing disciplines. CSTA provides opportunities for K–12 teachers and students to better understand the computing disciplines and to more successfully prepare themselves to teach and learn.

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Stacey Finkel
Computer Science Teachers Association
+1 (703) 304-1377
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