[Edu-sig] How to evaluate programming skills, are there any international benchmarks?

Marilyn Davis marilyn at deliberate.com
Thu Jun 10 20:40:44 EDT 2004

On Thu, 10 Jun 2004, Linda Grandell wrote:

> Hello everybody,
> I have been going through the edu-sig archive for a couple of months 
> now; there is really a lot to read and learn in there.
> I work at the Department of Computer Science at Åbo Akademi University 
> in Turku, Finland. For the last two years I have been active in a 
> project, whose aim is to acquaint high school students with computer 
> science, since no true computer science education is available to them 
> otherwise. While working with these high school students I have realized 
> how important it would be for them to get a true and correct conception 
> of what computer science is all about. I think the idea of CP4E, 
> proposed by Guido van Rossum, is very good. I believe that everybody 
> (not only future computer scientist) would gain from knowing how to 
> program, due to the meta skills learned in the process. When one learns 
> to program one also acquires knowledge in how to solve problems, think 
> logically, methodically and algorithmically.
> I think the basic education in computer science has not been given 
> enough attention; in my opinion the basic computer science courses 
> should have high priority, since they act as starting points into the 
> field. I feel that programming should be taught in high schools, since 
> these should provide all-round learning and ensure that the students 
> receive the skills and knowledge needed for further study and in life in 
> general.
> The reason I am telling you all this is to set some kind of background 
> to what I want to ask you about. I am about to engage myself in research 
> as a PhD-student, focusing on how programming and algorithmic thinking 
> can be taught to high school students. I have been very fascinated by 
> Python, and have decided to use that as the first thing to try out in 
> order to get some results on how high school students should (or 
> shouldn't :) be taught.
> I will start by developing a course in Python that I will give to 
> newbies in high schools. I have not had any problem in finding material 
> for the course, but what I do see as a problem is how I should go about 
> evaluating the course. Since I am aiming at a PhD, I would, naturally, 
> like to be able to extract some information about whether the course 
> promoted the problem solving, programming and algorithmic thinking 
> skills of the students. Since there are a lot of different persons on 
> this mailing list, I thought it would be a good idea to write down my 
> ponderings here.
> * Have anybody else done anything like what I am about to do? I would 
> really like to hear about your experiences.
> * Are there any international benchmarks one can use to measure the 
> results of this kind of an "experiment"? What should be measured and how?

Hi Linda,

Good luck with your research.

I teach Python, and I teach high school students, but I haven't taught 
Python to high school students.  I think it would be the best combo.

I teach students that the point of programming language is to communicate 
with other engineers in a language that also the computer understands.

When I evaluate their programs, whether or not the program runs is
almost irrelevant.  That the code is easy to read, well-structured,
well-chosen identifier names, ... is everything.  I grade their
programs as if I was grading poetry or art.  If there is pleasure in
reading a program, it is a good program.  If it is frustrating to
read, it's bad code.

Also, I give a really low score for students who do not follow the
specification exactly.  While I encourage experimentation in general, when
they are submitting a program for a grade, I insist that they make every
effort to have nothing extra in it, and that the code follows the
specification exactly.  These are important for production code at work.

My students seem to like me anyway.  :^)

> * What kind of research methods can and should be used?
> * The course will contain about 28-30 hours; I have a feeling that we 

30 hours goes by in a snap for students who are programming in Python.

> will be able to cover much more programming theory using Python than, 
> for instance, Java, but does anybody have an idea about how far we could 
> get in that time?
> I am very enthusiastic about this project and I am really looking 
> forward to giving the course. I am grateful for any answers, thoughts 
> and advice you can give me.
> Best regards,

Good luck!!!

Marilyn Davis

> Linda Grandell
> Åbo Akademi University
> Turku, Finland
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