AP NEWS

Wyoming agency takes computer science standards comment

March 2, 2019

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Eliza Moore started coding in the second grade.

She came home from school one day after doing Hour of Code — an online course that teaches computer coding — in one of her classes. She sat down at the computer, started practicing the lesson she’d learned that day, and ever since she’s been insatiable.

Eliza is now a fourth-grader at Fairview Elementary, but her love for computers has only grown. She spoke to that passion Thursday during a public comment session held by the Wyoming Department of Education.

The WDE held the public comment session in Cheyenne to get feedback on proposed computer science standards. It was the final in a string of public comment sections held across the state, organized at the State Board of Education’s request.

The sessions are one step in complying with legislation passed in 2018, requiring all Wyoming school districts to offer computer science courses by the 2022-2023 school year.

During the session, WDE representatives discussed the standards and how to read the documentation explaining the standards, then took questions and comments from the public.

A number of people stood up to speak, including Eliza and her mother, Erin Moore. Moore is CEO of Gannett Peak Technical Services, a Cheyenne-based software development company. She said her support for the computer science standards came both as an employer and a mother.

“It’s really crucial you think about how many times a day you touch a computer,” Moore said.

Today’s students are going to be filling jobs that don’t even exist yet, Moore said, but more than that, their lives are going to look drastically different from their lives today. In everything they do, they will need to have an understanding of how technology works, she said.

Cindy Delancy, president of the Wyoming Business Alliance, went in a similar vein with her public comment. She gave examples of the ways computer science will touch industries not typically considered high tech, like how artificial intelligence will play a role in energy jobs, for example.

She acknowledged that it might be difficult to get the computer science standards off the ground, but “even good change can sometimes be hard change,” she said.

While nearly every stakeholder the Wyoming Tribune Eagle has spoken to about the computer science standards has ultimately been in favor of them, many had reservations about the logistics.

The department presented the standards to the education board in January and heard a good deal of pushback. The board called the standards overwhelmingly complex and asked whether educators would be able to meet the standards given the structure and length of the school day.

Questions about where to find properly credentialed teachers and how to pay for the infrastructure and teacher training needed to implement the curriculum have also been raised.

Credentialing is already proving somewhat challenging to some schools. Right now, 32 teachers in all of Wyoming have a 6-12 computer science endorsement on their teaching license and 17 teachers are working toward an endorsement, according to data from the Wyoming Professional Teaching Standards Board.

In a survey mandated by the 2018 legislation, 89 percent of school districts said they needed “widespread training of teachers in computer science.”

But credentialing existing teachers and hiring new computer science instructors costs money. The department estimates the annual statewide cost of implementing the new standards would be roughly $12.2 million, but that estimate did not account for certifications educators would need to teach the computer science courses. A certification at the University of Wyoming is just under $11,400.

The cost estimate also did not include the costs districts would incur to develop new curricula and align assessment systems to the standards. A large district estimates this cost at $250,000.

Laramie County District 1 career and technical education coordinator Jeff Stone said the big obstacles will be finding the time to teach the classes.

“The one thing we don’t get any more of is time,” he said.

One solution, he said, is embedding the curriculum into other courses, where students will be able to see some practical application of the material, too. So, they might get a slice of the computer science embedded into their math or science courses.

Laurie Hernandez, WDE director of content and standards, said allowing teachers to embed the computer science content into their daily lessons was a major goal when designing the standards.

As far as the infrastructure costs, Hernandez said the technology districts have to complete the statewide WYTOPP assessment would also be adequate to teach computer science courses. As for credentialing teachers, she said the WDE has been working with the PTSB to provide guidance to districts still trying to get teachers the necessary endorsements.

The hurdles notwithstanding, a fair proportion of Wyoming’s school districts, 52 percent of the 44 districts that responded to the WDE’s survey, said they had at least some computer science courses in the district.

Moreover, in a WDE survey sent to various education stakeholders, 50.2 percent of 606 respondents said computer science was essential for elementary school students and 65.9 percent said it was essential at the secondary level.

The WDE will continue to gather public comment online through March 5, and will then compile the information into a report to present at the next state board meeting. At that meeting, the board can vote to either approve the draft computer science standards as they are, or ask the WDE to retool them.

Hernandez said the board will likely make that decision based on the public comment they are presented.

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Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com