I’m confused about the TExES certification test for computer science and would appreciate some guidance. I know I have to have a Texas certificate already to add the CS 8-12 certification, but I’m not sure which certification test to take, since there are currently two of them. Please help me understand!!
Confused Test Taker
Dear Confused Test Taker,
There are currently three ways a teacher can be certified to teach computer science in Texas, and only one of these three is required. I’m going to go over all of them and give some background that will better help you choose the right certification exam for you, before giving my recommendation.
CS Certification Options for Teachers in Texas
- Currently hold the old CIS (Computer Information Systems) certificate, which is no longer offered but remains valid, and which many current CS teachers hold and use.
- Take and pass the current TExES CS 8-12 141 Test, which has been in place for several years, and is based on a framework that includes 33% Tech Apps related questions , with 67% related to CS. This test is still available, but expires after the August 2017 administration window.
- Take and pass the new TExES CS 8-12 241 Test, which is based on standards that were revised in October 2015, and reduces the presence of Tech Apps related questions to 12.5%, but which also includes 12.5% Advanced Topic questions, specifically related to Discrete Math, Digital Forensics, Robotics, and Game/App Development. This test is currently available to take, along with the 141 test, but after the August 2017 testing will remain the only available test to take in order to earn the CS 8-12 certification.
I have personally taken and passed all three tests, and feel fairly qualified to speak to this question from my own testing and teaching experience.
Teaching Background and Experience
In 1991, I took and passed the EXcET test for Computer Science, based at that time on the Pascal language. When C++ became the language of choice for high schools because of the AP test language change in the late 90s, the certification test was not revised, and therefore the certification effort fell to colleges and universities, with no standard statewide test available for several years.
When Java became the official AP language around 2004, and when TEA decided to revise the CS1 TEKS to align with that language change, eventually the teacher framework was also updated, and a new certification test was created and made available, hence the 141 test, which has now been in effect for several years. These standards lean a bit towards the Java language, although there is no explicit requirement by the state of Texas that teachers or high schools use any particular language to teach CS.
After 33 years of public school teaching, I decided it was time to retire, and so at the end of the 2012-13 school year, I did just that. After a year or so, I decided to become involved with helping other teachers “learn the ropes” of computer science teaching, and in the spring of 2015 began a collaboration with the Center for STEM Education at the University of Texas, working specifically with that organization’s deputy director Dr. Carol Fletcher in launching what is now known as WeTeach_CS. This effort has quickly become the state and national leader in delivering computer science teacher professional development, with support from some very heavy hitters like Oracle, Google, Microsoft, the 100K In 10 project, and the National Science Foundation. We have also had incredible support from the Texas Education Agency in the form of generous grants to fund our efforts.
About the 141 Exam
As I embarked on this new initiative, my first action was to actually experience the certification test myself, and so on April 8, 2015, I took and passed the current TExES 141 Computer Science 8-12 teacher certification test, based on a teacher competency framework that had been in place for several years.
On the 100 question test, of the 80 questions that actually counted, my score report showed 22 out of 23 correct in the Domain I Tech Apps Core section of the test. For Domain II, Program Design and Development, my tally was 26 out of 28, and in Domain III, Programming Language Topics, I scored 27 out of 29. My overall scale score was 284 out of 300, which amounts to about a 95% passing rate. The minimum is 240, which is an 80% score. The exam was composed of equal parts for each domain, 33 1/3 % each.
As I experienced the test, I also analyzed and evaluated its relevance, based on my 20+ years of CS teaching experience, and in my opinion, it had two main flaws:
- It stressed Tech Apps too much, and
- some of the CS based topics were obsolete and/or not current.
141 test is still available to take and remains in effect until August 2017, when the new 241 version will be the only one available.
Already aware of these flaws, an effort was made by TEA and ETS to alleviate them and improve the competencies in general. These two organizations formed a task force in October 2015 to review all 87 competencies of the 141 test and revise them to make them more aligned with current computer science education trends.
About the 241 Exam
I was honored to serve on this committee with around a dozen state CS education leaders and expert teachers, and came away very optimistic about the new standards, and very hopeful about a new, more valid and reliable test with which to measure the readiness of a teacher to teach CS. I can say with assurance and confidence that the new framework is solid, transportable across any of the current languages in use, and reliable and valid on which to base a new test, which ETS has done, making the new 241 test available starting as of the fall of 2016.
To summarize, the following major changes were made:
- Domain I, covering Tech App topics, was reduced to 12.5% of the question on the test, significantly down from 33%. Several competencies were adjusted, some eliminated, and overall improved to provide a more valid framework for this domain.
- Domain II, Program Design and Development, was increased to cover 35% of the test. Likewise, the committee made several adjustments to improve these competencies to be more relevant.
- Domain III, Programming Language Topics, was increased to cover 40% of the test. In my opinion, the most progress was made here, adding more emphasis to current trends and paradigms in computer science education.
- A new Domain IV was added to cover the remaining 12.5%, consisting of four Advanced Topics (Discrete Math, Digital Forensics, Robotics, and Mobile App/Game Design).
On December 8, 2016, I took the TExES 241 Computer Science 8-12 certification test, and passed with 283 out of 300, a 94% passing rate. Of the questions that counted, there were 10 each in Domains I (Tech Apps) and IV (Advanced Topics), and I scored 8 and 9 correct, respectively. In Domain II (Program Design and Development), my score was 25 out of 28 correct, and I answered all of the Domain III (Programming Language Topics) questions correctly.
In comparison to the 141 test, I felt very good about the 241 test. I heartily recommend to anyone seeking this certification that they attempt the 241 test instead of the 141 test. It is much more current, reliable and valid, with much improved coverage on Object Oriented topics, and a significantly reduced emphasis on the tech apps topics. Regarding the advanced topic questions, the test was fair and appropriate to the competencies mentioned in the newly revised standards, and were fairly achievable.
Please understand that this is still a difficult and rigorous test, not for the faint of heart, but is valid and reliable as a whole, with a healthy mix of high level questions to make you think. In my opinion, it fairly and accurately measures the knowledge base for someone considering computer science teaching. In my opinion, anyone who passes this test has enough understanding to be competent in the computer science classroom.
As always, thanks for all you do for your students, and for our future technology leaders!
About Ask John
As he always emphasizes in his classes, courses, and workshops, there is no such thing as a silly question, except for the one you do not ask. John Owen has taught high school Computer Science very successfully for many years, and has a team of CS colleagues who are ready and willing to lend their expertise, experience, and wisdom to help you become a better computer science teacher. This blog is for you! Ask your questions, and he will do his best to give you sound advice that will get you back on track with whatever issues you encounter, and for which you seek answers.
Have a Question?
CS Teachers are encouraged to submit their questions about teaching CS or other aspects of CS education. Send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be sure to let you know if your question is featured in the Ask John column of the WeTeach_CS Blog.