MHS awarded for female diversity in AP computer science courses

MHS was recognized by the College Board.

Out of 18,000 secondary schools that offer Advanced Placement courses, Moorestown High School is one of only 685 to earn recognition from the College Board for achieving high female representation in its Advanced Placement courses.

This marks the first year the College Board has recognized the school with a Female Diversity Award. Brian Orak, a computer science teacher at MHS, said he was surprised to open his email and learn both his AP Computer Science A and AP Computer Science Principles courses were being awarded.

To nab the honor, schools had to have 50 percent or higher female representation in AP computer sciences courses or 50 percent or higher females taking the AP exam. MHS was one of 490 to earn the distinction for its AP Computer Science Principles course in particular,

Since he began teaching at MHS in 2014, Orak’s courses have typically seen a “reasonable” female to male ratio in his courses. Lately, however, he’s witnessed a significant improvement in the number of female students taking his AP courses.

Orak attributes the increase to a number of factors. He said society has seen coding jobs becoming more and more in demand, and this has trickled down to the student consciousness. Within the school system, there is a greater push toward science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), as well with computer science getting more of a curricular push.

Last year, Orak’s AP Computer Science A course had a five-to-four female to male ratio in the classroom. This year, his course has a three-to-one female to male ratio, which he stressed is much higher than the national average. He said current statistics indicate computer science courses typically have a 40 percent female population, so having more than 50 percent last year was no small accomplishment.

Orak commended the Moorestown Township school district for encouraging female students to continue to sign up for these courses.

“It’s because we have all the opportunities available for the women, and we always try to make it accessible,” Orak said.

While Orak was shocked to learn that his courses were being recognized, he said all the credit goes toward his female students. He said he sees it as a good sign that more and more female students are embracing STEM and signing up for these courses.

He said more female students only serves to benefit the class as a whole.

“Representation is very important. It eliminates bias in the classroom,” Orak said.

Orak said when there is an equal distribution in the classroom, it frames his thinking when he assigns a project. He said the distribution reminds him to create projects that are neutral in tone, which often forces projects to be more engaging for the general classroom population.

Trevor Parker, College Board senior vice president of the AP program, commended MHS in a release he sent to Orak.

“By inviting many more young women to advanced computer science classrooms, Moorestown High School has taken a significant step toward preparing all students for the widest range of 21st-century opportunities,” Parker said. “We hope this inspires many other high schools to engage more female students in AP Computer Science and prepares them to drive innovation.”