Changing the Code: Virginia Board of Education makes computer science standards mandatory

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By Tori Custer

The smartphone has become a necessity, artificial intelligence is on the rise, and some of the best cameras are always held in the palm of our hand, and yet schools are teaching almost the same things they taught a decade ago. That is until Virginia schools made changes to their curriculum in November of 2017. Computer science is now a mandatory part of the curriculum, making Virginia the first of the fifty states to do so.

Schools will also be given ratings ranging from “accredited” to “accreditation denied” in order to stop punishing schools for having students from low-income backgrounds when those students are actually showing a large amount of growth. Additionally, the amount of credit incoming freshmen will be required to complete decreases from six to five. This essentially means that there will be fewer required SOL tests. Steps will be taken to allow students to explore careers and the state will implement the “Profile of a Virginia Graduate,” which places emphasis on a variety of skills including creative and critical thinking.

Starting in the 2018-2019 school year, freshmen will be required to learn computer science to graduate along with the other requirements. In these classes students will information such as how a computer operates and how to program. The classes will be provided as electives in high schools and middle schools. Most states, such as Texas, Arkansas, and West Virginia, have adopted an “advisory standard,” meaning they offer the class to students but do not require them to take the class to graduate.
“I think it’s good that Virginia has adapted to the changing times of society,” said sophomore Luke Hubbard, a computer enthusiast who has taken computer classes.
“I think that it is interesting that Virginia is the first one to make this kind of change in the curriculum because of technology. I think that this class is very relevant for this generation, but it also puts more stress on students for their graudation needs,” said freshman Quentin Shin, a member of the AET program.

According to a study completed by Code.org, a group advocating for more education in technology in Virginia, the number one wage creator is computer related, and therefore a degree in technology is highly valuable and in demand. More than half of teachers and parents in the study believed students should be required to take a computer class. The average salary for computer majors is about $100,000 in Virginia, and there is a great demand to fill these jobs in the state.

Technology has taken root in most Loudoun County classrooms by adopting “Bring Your Own Technology” in 2015, also known as BYOT. It was a part of the One to the World Program and an effort to teach students in a more modern and creative way that is relevant to their way of thinking. Students can access their notes, grades, and even assignments online. Technology in the classroom also give students access to different teachers or learning resources, such as Khan Academy. Some teachers now use the flipped classroom method where students learn through online videos at home and do practice problems at school.

“I use technology all the time in school for various things such as for research, in class activities and for anything I’m confused on,” said junior Nicole Shea.

Nonprofit groups, such as CodeVA and Code.org, have been advocating for these standards and have helped pass this legislation, but the Richmond Times Dispatch Newspaper has revealed that there was some hesitation to adopt the new standards even with the support. Schools may not be prepared to teach computer science if they can’t meet the demand for teachers with those skills. According to Title II’s most recent survey on the workforce, there were only six teachers in Virginia who majored in computer science, while some others had taken a test to demonstrate their mastery of the subject. There would have to be enough teachers to cover the incoming class, and then maybe more as new students reach high school.

Even some students are hesitant towards the change, acknowledging that the course would just be another requirement students might be forced to take without any passion for the class.

“A lot of classes in school are already dreaded by most students and adding yet another class that’s mandatory will not make students more ambitious to get better and won’t make them want to go to school more than they already do,” said sophomore Dani Gorsky.

Meanwhile, other students accept the change as a result of innovation and an evolving world.

“It should be mandatory like english or math because of the versatility and usefulness of the skill,” said Hubbard.

“Students should be forced to take computer science classes even without interest in those fields. Everyone uses technology today, and it can be important to learn things about it. Technology has become an everyday thing, and it is very relevant for it to be in the school curriculum,” said Shin. The Academy of Engineering and Technology, commonly referred to as AET, began in August 2016 when it welcomed 180 freshmen in a program that is still growing. The AET is planned to move to its own building from Tuscarora High School by the fall of 2018.

While there may be some concerns on the ambition of technology in Virginia schools, change is unavoidable. Scientists are developing artificial intelligence and other life-changing creations. The future innovators need to be able to continue this cycle if humanity hopes to travel the solar system or the deep seas, cure cancer, or protect people from terrorist attacks.

“Computer science is definitely important in today’s society just because of how technology-oriented we are, and there will always be a demand for more people that know computer science so we can make more advancements,” said Gorsky.