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Evaluating Self Assessment And A Placement Examination For A First Course In Computer Science: How Do Women And Minority Students Fare?

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

1st Year Retention Programs for Women Students

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.603.1 - 11.603.8



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Paper Authors


Joseph Urban Arizona State University

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Joseph E. Urban is a professor of computer science and serves the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering as Inclusive Learning Communities Program Director at ASU. His research areas include software engineering, computer languages, data engineering, and distributed computing.

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Mary Anderson-Rowland Arizona State University

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MARY R. ANDERSON-ROWLAND is an Associate Professor in Industrial Engineering. She was the Associate Dean of Student Affairs in the Fulton School of Engineering at ASU from 1993-2004. She was named the SHPE Educator of the Year 2005 and selected for the National Engineering Award in 2003, the highest honor given by the American Association of Engineering Societies. In 2002 the Society of Women Engineers named her the Distinguished Engineering Educator. She has received many other awards for her support of students. An ASEE Fellow, she is a frequent speaker on the career opportunities in engineering, especially for women and minority students.

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Faye Navabi Arizona State University

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FAYE NAVABI is a lecturer in the Department of Computer Science in the Fulton School of Engineering at Arizona State University. She teaches CSE 110, Introduction to JAVA.

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Debra Banks Consultant

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DEBRA L. BANKS, COOL Evaluator and former Director of Evaluation and Assessment for CRESMET (ASU), is now the Director of Outreach and Operations for Innovative Tailor Made Training and Technology (ITTT) in Berkeley, CA. She has been evaluating major school reform and technical programs for 14 years. She has served as a co-PI for several grants including COOL and the METS Project.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract



The recruitment of women and minority students to computer science undergraduate degree programs has not kept pace with other science and engineering disciplines. The introductory computer science course is a contributing factor to the poor retention rates for students in general and worse yet for women and minority students. There is interest in revamping the introductory computer science course for improving student effectiveness and retention. In the meantime, the approach of centering the introductory computer science course on an industrial strength language, such as C++ and Java, is considered by some as a factor contributing to the retention problems. This paper discusses the role of a placement examination as the means for advisement on entry to the first course in computing. A self-assessment part of the placement examination that was coupled with correct responses can be used to aid in early identification for advisement and course support.

I. Introduction

Many students have difficulty with the first course in computer science, especially women and underrepresented minority students, as shown in research and with our own local data. Most engineering and computer science students are typically required to complete one of two introductory computer science courses, which is either a course in Java or a course in C++. We noted in 2002 that a disproportionate percentage of women and minority students were withdrawing or receiving D’s or E’s (F’s) in these introductory courses.5

Calculus I placement examinations have been shown to be effective for advising students into mathematics courses. We developed a placement examination for the introductory computer science course. The first administrations of the introductory computer science placement examination was to entering freshmen minority students enrolled in a Summer Bridge Academic Success Program and to entering freshmen women enrolled in a women’s Summer Bridge Academic Success Program. These programs were held right before the fall semester began. In the Fall of 2002, the placement examination was taken in two sections of the introductory Java class taught by one of the co-authors. Students who scored very low on the examination were advised to take an introductory one hour course to enable them to be prepared to take the Java class. Students who scored in the middle range were advised to attend a group tutoring session held nearly every week to enable them to do well in the course.

Urban, J., & Anderson-Rowland, M., & Navabi, F., & Banks, D. (2006, June), Evaluating Self Assessment And A Placement Examination For A First Course In Computer Science: How Do Women And Minority Students Fare? Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1363

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2006 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015