Virginia students now required to be taught computer science skills

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. — Starting this year, Virginia schools will be required to teach kids computer science skills in the classroom. Advocates and education officials say will help them in the workforce and everyday life. ​

In 2016, the General Assembly passed legislation that made Virginia the first state in the country to mandate students learn computer science and coding.​ 

Before, when it wasn’t required, only select students would take these types of subjects.​​

“It was basically just an AP class was representative of everything that was Virginia education around ‘CS’,” Chris Dovi, the Executive Director of CodeVA, said. ​​

CodeVA is a nonprofit based in Richmond that receives funding from the state. While their office space was filled with middle school students Friday morning, instructors usually spend most of their time training teachers on how to actually teach computer science in the classroom.​​

The Standards of Learning for Computer Science were finalized in 2017 and are expected to be taught starting in the 2019-2020 academic year. ​Students will not be evaluated on these skills on statewide standardized tests, education officials say. ​

Under the new requirements, middle and high school students will be able to take elective courses in computer science subjects. Critical thinking skills developed from computer science will be incorporated into all K-12 classes, including language arts and history. ​​

Dovi says using the algorithms and systematic thinking based in ‘CS’ is a way young people can see how the world works, even outside of traditional coding. ​​

“Because it’s a foundational literacy that crosses into other curricular areas. You’d be using modeling and simulation tools in a history classroom or a social sciences classroom to understand how an idea spreads,” Dovi said. “Whether designing an airplane wing or try to design a new cure for cancer…. all of that is modeling and simulation.”

These lessons learned can help students get ready for the workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information technology occupations are expected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026. That’s faster than the average for all other occupations, the report says. ​

“More and more you see technology being embedded in every single business and every single workforce,” Timothy Ellis, the Computer Science and Virtual Learning Specialist at the Virginia Dept. of Education, said. “So equipping our students from our K-12 schools with the skills to use and contribute with technology will help in more than just the big companies, that’s going to get used in everyday small business and even in their everyday life.”​​

While these standards of learning are taking effect in the classroom, the Department of Education hasn’t finalized the “curriculum framework” that it gives to teachers for crafting lesson plans. ​​

According to a Superintendent’s memo from 2018 that details the timeline for the computer science SOLs to be implemented, this framework was supposed to be completed and distributed to school divisions last school year. ​​

“It’s a rather lengthy document, it was a long development process that took multiple rounds of revision,” Ellis said. “Any time you’re creating something out of nothing it’s going to take a little longer than expected.” ​​

Education officials say many school divisions have been able to develop their lessons from the state standards already approved.​​

The public can still comment on the “curriculum framework.” There is a survey you can fill out online. There will also be online webinars, kind of like public hearings but on the internet, where people can share their thoughts. Those are happening August 20 and 21. ​

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