Directions for Advanced Placement Computer Science

The 1999-2000 Ad Hoc Advisory Committee

In April, 1999, the College Board approved a request from the Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science (CS) Development Committee to form an Ad Hoc Advisory Committee to explore future directions for AP CS. At the college level, AP CS involves material taught in a typical CS1-CS2 sequence; at the high school level, the corresponding course typically is labeled CS AB. The formal charge of the Ad Hoc Committee states:

The charge of this ad hoc committee is to make recommendations to the AP Computer Science Development Committee for changes in the curriculum and whether or not C++ should remain the delivery language. If C++ is still a reasonable option, the current subset should be reexamined. If another language is recommended, then a language subset and any other guidelines deemed necessary will need to be developed.

Since that time, an advisory committee has been appointed, and discussions have begun concerning possible directions for AP CS.

Context for AP CS

The Advanced Placement Program serves at least two important functions:
  1. AP provides guidance and resources for teachers and students for challenging, college-level courses in various disciplines within a high school setting.

  2. AP provides a mechanism for those students to receive college credit for that high school work.

To fulfill this mission, AP seeks to identify the content and approach of introductory courses taught by typical colleges and universities, to codify that material in published course descriptions, and to develop and administer examinations in various subject areas. In particular, subject Development Committees develop course descriptions and examinations, based on an understanding of what colleges and universities are teaching. Development Committees also must try to anticipate new directions that colleges and universities will follow, so that examinations will evolve in ways consistent with trends at the college and university level.

In computer science, this mission is particularly difficult for several important reasons:

Altogether, the AP CS Development Committee must identify and anticipate a common middle ground of college and university practice.

Committee Approach

While the computer science community may have a very diverse range of goals and approaches for introductory computer science, the AP CS Ad Hoc Committee is taking a step-wise approach to determine to what extent there might be consensus in some areas. This is prompting the following possible outline for Committee work:

  1. Determine to what extent computer science faculty might agree about goals for the CS1-CS2 introductory sequence -- independent of language.
  2. Determine whether one or more languages can be identified to support these goals for AP CS.
  3. Determine to what extent colleges and universities would require work in a particular language before being willing to give credit for previous work (either in high school or in other colleges).
  4. Draft specific recommendations, based on answers to the above questions.
  5. Circulate draft recommendations to the computer science community for feedback.
  6. Make final recommendations to the AP CS Development Committee.
The Committee has been asked to make its final recommendations in the late Spring, 2000. With this in mind, the Committee hopes to solicit information through several e-mail mailings to appropriate list serves and to hold a session for feedback at SIGCSE 2000 on Friday, March 10, 2000, in Austin, Texas.

Documents and References

Ad Hoc Advisory Committee Members

Send mail to Ad Hoc Committee Members

Additional Notes


SIGCSE is the ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education. SIGCSE publishes a quarterly Bulletin, sponsors conferences, and otherwise promotes discussions among people interested in computer science education. More information is available at the SIGCSE home page.

Suggestions concerning this World Wide Web page are welcome.

created November 21, 1999
last revised December 7, 1999

Henry M. Walker (