Exploring Computer Science Curriculum Alignment

Executive Summary


Most computer scientists and computer-science educators agree that computational thinking (CT)—however loosely defined at present--is a required skill for solving problems using computational techniques. Computational thinking has begun to find a strong footing in K-12 driven in part by its inclusion in the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) standards. Computational thinking has the potential to become well represented in high schools through the NSF-funded Exploring Computer Science (ECS) pre-AP curriculum. In this context of expansion, accepted and durable assessments of computation thinking are required. Stakeholders rightly want to understand what unique knowledge, skills, and abilities are being taught from modules and curriculum that purport to teach skills that might well pave pathways to computer science careers.

SRI International (SRI) is addressing this need for assessments by partnering with ECS developers and teachers, and other experts and stakeholders in computer science (CS), computer science education and assessment, to design, develop, and validate assessments that are unique to the local context of ECS while clearly reflecting computational thinking practices. Our project, Principled Assessment of Computational Thinking (PACT), will significantly advance the field of assessment in high school computer science and computational thinking while providing practical artifacts for real teachers to use. As part of this effort, the PACT project team has been aligning ECS learning objectives with national and state standards.

Method & Scope

We began by identifying relevant national and state standards to investigate, including. Computer Science Teachers Association, 2011 K-12 Computer Science Standards

In addition to these national standards, we investigated California and Illinois state learning standards because ECS is being used in those states. (We will add more state learning standards as ECS continues to scale.) We are also identifying relevant state Career and Technical Education (CTE) standards because ECS sometimes finds adoption into the secondary curriculum through the CTE pathway.

Once we identified these standards, our team, which included an expert ECS teacher from California, developed a draft alignment showing the relationships between ECS unit objectives and computational thinking practices, and the targeted standards. This draft was then reviewed by external experts, including California and Illinois teachers implementing ECS during the 2012-2013 school year, and content specialists in computer science.

Based on feedback received from these reviewers, we updated the draft alignment and developed two representations of the alignments, one for teachers, and one for school and district leaders and policymakers. For teachers, the alignment results are organized in narrative format by instructional days within each ECS unit. The ECS topic, focus and computational thinking practices are presented for each instructional segment within each unit, followed by the relevant national and state standards aligned with that particular instructional segment. We believe that this presentation of the alignment results will be most useful for teachers when planning lessons and when asked by other teachers and school leaders about standards alignment.

For school and district leaders and policymakers, the alignment results are presented in a table by student learning objectives within each ECS unit. Each table contains three to six columns. The first three columns (from left to right) contain the ECS Unit and the corresponding unit objectives and computational thinking practices, and the remaining columns contain the relevant state or national standards aligned with the unit learning objectives. This presentation should be useful for policymakers, and school and district leaders when looking for a broad overview and summary of the learning standards addressed by the ECS curriculum.

Draft versions of these ECS alignment resources are available for download at pact@sri.com:

Note: These resources are aligned to Version 5 of the ECS curriculum.

For ECS Teachers: For District and School Leaders, and Policymakers

These alignment resources are still under development and feedback is welcome. Please email pact@sri.com with your comments and feedback. If you would like to conduct a more detailed review, you can contact us to arrange for a Microsoft Word version of the resources which you can markup.

We're excited about this opportunity to help the continued adoption of what we see as a robust curriculum that directly targets increasing the diversity of participants in diverse computer science pathways.