CSTA: Computer Science Teachers Struggle to Assess Students


A Computer Science Teacher Association (CSTA) study, Sowing the Seeds of Assessment Literacy in Secondary Computer Science Education: A Landscape Study, has revealed a significant gap in the current state of CS learning evaluation. The study offers recommendations on how to improve K-12 computer science assessment of students by helping teachers through quality resources, training and a reliable CS student assessment standard.

For the study, the CSTA interviewed secondary school educators and found that CS teachers use both formative and summative assessment techniques including multiple-choice tests, small quizzes and open-ended questions, and that they’re often troubled with finding a robust, valid assessment tool to evaluate their students’ learning.

One CS teacher said about the formative assessment implemented:

“[W]e write programs either as a unit collectively or I model them before. And then there are work periods during the class where I assign problems [for students] to write some programs. I will go around and get each student to explain their code to me…So the formative assessments are in terms of reading code. ”

The study made clear that due to Computer Science’s nature in which many learning outcomes can be all correct, the process of assessing these is not uniform and cannot be easily standardized. According to the CSTA study, there are two major challenges in evaluating learning outcomes:

“[T]he unique nature of computer science, including how students approach algorithms to write their programs, makes assessment a challenging and time-consuming endeavor. The ubiquity of programs and code on the Internet also makes it difficult for teachers to accurately gauge what students know. ”

The CSTA Task force explained the difficulty the field poses to streamlined evaluation:

“… assessing student learning is particularly challenging when there are a multitude of possible methods and programming solutions for a single problem, all of which are equally correct.

As the study reveals, instructors often resort to resources such as test banks, borrowing assessment tools from their colleagues and even using their own undergraduate computer science courses as a source of information.

The landscape study calls for an authoritative, valid computer science assessment strategy and the development of an online repository for teachers that will allow them access to a wide array of high quality assessment material and tools.

The Task Force also calls for the design and implementation of a community of practice on how computer science assessment must be carried out and to help improve teacher literacy and skill in assessing Computer Science students.  As the study highlights, teachers need training to improve their understanding and implementation of CS classroom assessment.

It is concluded that to support student’s learning and success in CS:

“[T]he computer science education community undertake substantial efforts to create or collect high-quality assessments aligned to the CSTA K–12 Computer Science Standards … and also to provide guidance and support to teachers to adequately reflect on the instruction and spend less effort trying to find resources or different kinds of assessments.”

The CSTA study was conducted with support from Google.