Texas teachers and districts have been asking for more options for students who want to take computer science courses, as well as asking the state to establish some interoperability standards for digital instructional materials. The Texas State Board of Education responded to these requests at their April 2018 board meeting.
Substitute Computer Programming for LOTE
In 2013, the Texas Legislature enacted HB 5 which provided a new graduation requirement option of substituting two credits in computer programming languages for two Language Other Than English (LOTE) credits. In January 2014, the SBOE designated Computer Science I, II, and III as the courses that could satisfy this new option. At the April board meeting, the SBOE broadened this list to include AP Computer Science Principles, AP Computer Science A, IB Computer Science Standard Level, and IB Computer Science Higher Level (19 TAC, Subchapter 74.12, b, 5, ii). In addition, the board approved a provision that allows a student who successfully completes AP Computer Science A or IB Computer Science Higher Level to satisfy both one advanced mathematics requirement AND a LOTE requirement for graduation (19 TAC, Subchapter 74.11, k). The student would not earn two credits, but could use one of these two computer science courses to satisfy two graduation requirements.
These changes will give more options to districts as they decide which courses they can staff. Many districts offer Computer Science I, Computer Science II, and AP Computer Science A. However, because many districts only have one teacher who is certified to teach computer science courses, some districts must choose whether to offer Computer Science II or AP Computer Science. Since AP CS was not on the list of courses that a student could take to satisfy the LOTE graduation requirements, students at these schools were precluded from substituting a computer programming course for a LOTE graduation requirement. This change will eliminate that barrier.
Hal Speed, the past-president of TA/CS-SIG (Technology Applications/Computer Science Special Interest Group), advocated on behalf of TCEA to make this change. It has taken several years to gather the necessary support for it. However, his hard work has resulted in additional options for students. This is an excellent example of the difference one individual can have in changing policy.
Recommended Prerequisites for AP CS
In addition to these changes, the SBOE changed the recommended prerequisites for AP Computer Science A from Computer Science I and Algebra II to only recommending Algebra I. The board enacted these changes upon the advice of the College Board (19 TAC, Subchapter 126.62, a).
The SBOE also took some positive steps toward adopting interoperability standards for digital products. TEA has worked with school districts to create standards for machine-readable TEKS. The board adopted rules on April 13 that will require companies that submit digital instructional materials for Proclamation 2020 to use these new standards. This will make it much easier for districts to import the TEKS into their LMS. Over time, the TEA-created machine-readable TEKS will also be incorporated into digital products purchased by the district, which again will aid a district’s implementation of instructional materials.
In addition, the SBOE is requiring publishers who submit digital instructional materials for Proclamation 2019 to complete The Report on Interoperability and Ease of Use. This report will provide the SBOE with valuable information about what standards the different companies are using, which will help them decide which standards are the most common. This will aid in deciding which interoperability standards they should adopt and require for future proclamations. This has been a huge headache for districts. They have invested countless hours uploading and downloading student information. Each company uses different file formats for inserting and changing student data. Therefore, when students enroll or leave a district, someone has to upload and download many different files just to ensure that the date is accurate. Districts have been clamoring for this type of action for several years. The state is one step closer to adopting interoperability standards, which, I’m sure, will be greeted with much applause.
TCEA applauds the Board on the changes they made at the April meeting. The elimination of these barriers will enable districts to offer students more opportunities, both in the field of computer science, but also in the ease of use of digital materials.