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Sender: "Team Ada: Ada Advocacy Issues (83 & 95)" <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Sat, 7 Oct 2000 11:45:27 -0400
Reply-To: Michael Feldman <[log in to unmask]>
From: Michael Feldman <[log in to unmask]>
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In-Reply-To: <[log in to unmask]> from "Tony" at Oct 06, 2000 10:43:36 PM
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[said Tony]

> On the subject of the AP test.
> Someone (sorry I deleted the orginal message) pointed out that the language
> used is selected based on what is thought to be the prevelant language of
> the next 5 years.

The (assumed) prevalent first language in universities.
> What decides that?

We were discussing the Advanced Placement (AP) tests. For our non-US
subscribers, let me fill in some facts (I'm familiar with this from 25
years of university teaching, and some prior employment).

What's AP? Some US high schools teach upper-level courses that
are approximately at university level; the AP tests measure students'
achievement in such courses. The tests are graded with 5 the highest
score; a student achieving a 4 or 5 can usually bypass the corresponding
university course and sometimes actually get degree credit for it.
(So basically the system provides college credit for really good high
school courses.)

The College Board (CB) is a "non-profit" organization created in the 1940s
by an  association of US univs.  to sponsor admission tests of various
kinds. The CB sets basic policy for these tests of all kinds.

A "non-profit" company, Educational Testing Service (ETS), actually
creates and administers the tests, under a contract with the College
Board. I worked for ETS, in their IS organization, for 4 years in
the 1970s, before I moved to GWU to teach. Their IS technologies
have changed, obviously, but the basic CB/ETS testing model has not.

The AP process has worked (IMHO) reasonably well for fairly standard
subjects like calculus, chemistry, physics, literature, etc. IMHO
it does not work very well for emerging fields with very diverse
first-year college courses, CS being the most obvious such field.

OK, but some US high schools do teach some CS; the quality of the
instruction and instructors is highly variable. Some years ago the
CB developed a CS test, which for years used Pascal as a "publication
language" - a lingua franca to express algorithms. Obviously this
tended to drive the curricula of the better high school courses.

In the mid-90s, as Pascal was passing out of favor in the universities,
CB/ETS came under pressure to dump this "old-fashioned" approach in
favor of something more "current".

The College Board created a committee of some univ. faculty and
some high school teachers. They did a "market survey" of university
CS departments that accept AP credit, asking them which language
they expected to be using in their intro courses over the next
number of years.

Remember, the AP test is a quasi-commercial thing (like the CB/ETS
Scholastic Assessment Tests (SATs) most US colleges use as entrance
exams), so the market study focuses on those univs.  with the largest
number of AP-"certified" entering students.

The answer? C++, obviously. Of course, by the time a large number of
high school seniors were taking the C++-based tests, many universities
had already dumped C++ for Java in their intro courses. So now CB/ETS
and their various advisors are working on switching the test to Java.

Now there's a very long lead time in developing an AP test, and high-
school courses that prepare students for it, and teacher-training material
to prepare the high-school teachers to teach those courses, and so on. So
in an emerging, fast-changing field like ours, a test that focues on
technology (coding in a language) rather than fundamentals is guaranteed
always to be behind the curve. Furthermore, many high school CS teachers
are resentful at being jerked around - just as they get decently good
at teaching Pascal, wham! C++. Just as they finally get their arms
around C++, wham! Java, and so on.

Can this ridiculous (IMHO) state of affairs be changed? I doubt it.
Everyone says they're "doing what the customers want", and in the
US higher education world, nobody's in charge. Certainly not the US
government, which most Americans prefer to see standing on the sidelines
of higher education.
> Every conference I go to, hiring mangers want to use C++ (sometimes Java)
> because that is the only 'people' they can hire.

And of course they focus on the kind of screwdriver you can use, rather
than on whether you can design a building that will withstand earthquakes.
> Why is there an abundance of one type of engineer?  Is it due to the vast
> network of corporate training, providing a comprehensive understanding of
> new language developments (Ouch, I bit my tongue coming out of my cheek!).
> Chicken.. Egg.. Hmmmm?

Well, yes, and it starts in the high schools.
> I think it is a vast Anti-Software Quality conspiracy made to keep the
> salaries inflated (Ouch, was that the tongue again or the inplant inserted
> during undergrad?).

Well, I think it's just stupidity and chaos rather than malicious
conspiracy, but the result is the same.:-)

Mike Feldman