Project

Principled Assessment of Computational Thinking (PACT)

SRI is providing high-quality assessments of the National Science Foundation-funded Exploring Computer Science program.

students and teachers at computers in a classroom

Student enrollments in computer science (CS) degree programs are declining, even as the demand for professionals in computer science and related disciplines is escalating dramatically. Drain from the computer science pipeline starts early, as high school students generally lack computer science course offerings and qualified CS teachers. This leads to diminished student interest and a lack of diversity in computer science. As one national data point reveals, while females take more than one-half of all Advanced Placement tests, less than 20 percent take the computer science test.

In response to this national need, the National Science Foundation-funded Into the Loop computer science equity project is developing Exploring Computer Science (ECS), an engaging and relevant introduction to computer science curriculum. SRI, in the Principled Assessment of Computational Thinking (PACT) project, is developing ways to assess the computational thinking practices—the big ideas that underlie the computer science discipline—that students acquire in the ECS curriculum.

SRI is designing and validating the assessments in partnership with the curriculum developers, ECS instructors, assessment experts, and computer scientists. Applying evidence-centered design, we are creating generalized design templates for computational thinking practices. These templates guide the development of assessment tasks for the ECS curriculum as well as for other CS curricula. These assessments and accompanying scoring rubrics will be piloted and field-tested. SRI will use assessment scores, response processes, and other validity evidence from the field tests to conduct a psychometric evaluation of both unit and summative assessments.

The PACT project represents an important step in filling the computer science pipeline with a more diverse population of students. High-quality assessment tools and resources will lower barriers for adopting and using the ECS curriculum, as well as other CS curricula, and will pave the way to reporting evidence of student progress and readiness to engage in further learning. The PACT project will also contribute to NSF’s effort to prepare 10,000 qualified computer science teachers (the CS10K project) by providing both new and experienced CS teachers with accessible and adaptable resources for assessing their students’ knowledge and skills in computational thinking.

Focus Areas: 
Education and Learning
Divisions: 
SRI Education