2020 Grants Challenge

CS Proficiency: Closing the Achievement Gap in Los Angeles

Idea by 9 Dots

Coding builds computational thinking and problem solving skills that are critical in STEM learning across subject areas yet there is no common standard for measuring K-6 coding proficiency. 9 Dots seeks a $100,000 grant to support our Get Coding program and close the achievement gap with significant CS learning outcomes for underserved students, while developing and applying more meaningful definitions and measurements for proficiency, including mastery of core coding concepts, difficulty levels, and underlying problem solving processes.


In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

Central LA

East LA

South LA

County of Los Angeles

City of Los Angeles

LAUSD (please select only if you have a district-wide partnership or project)


In what stage of innovation is this project?

Pilot project or new program

If you are submitting a collaborative proposal, please describe the specific role of partner organizations in the project.

9 Dots is not submitting this grant in collaboration with another organization or entity, however we have strong district partnerships with LAUSD and CUSD, and we are currently working in 22 Title I schools, with 11 in each respective district. This year, we are completing a three-year district level partnership with CUSD and are in talks for growing the K-6 pathways and/or contracting with additional CUSD schools. We were recently selected by LAUSD (the largest school district in the country) as one of only 61 approved “Partners for Student Success” contractors and are the only approved organization on the bench dedicated to CS education.

What is the need you’re responding to?

An early foundation in CS and coding is a “new basic” skill set “necessary for economic opportunity and social mobility” (CS for All, 2016) but coding is increasingly recognized for its ability to develop student problem solving skills, applicable across STEM domains. Researchers at UC Davis have concluded that K-12 CS education can help address California’s achievement gap in math (Cheng, 2016). This gap is especially significant for students of color in Los Angeles (LAUSD) and Compton Unified (CUSD) schools, where only 20% & 17% of African American 6th grade students met the 2018 SBA Math standards.

9 Dots is dedicated to CS education equity for low income students, girls, and students of color. This means going beyond CS “exposure” to close both the access and the achievement gap for underrepresented students by demonstrating meaningful student outcomes. California adopted K-12 CS standards in 2018, but there are still no standardized K-6 CS proficiency measures (Code.org, 2017).

Why is this project important to the work of your organization?​

9 Dots’ Get Coding program serves 22 LAUSD and CUSD Title I schools with K-6 CS education, from unplugged activities to an introduction to JavaScript and other professional coding languages. Our original, standards aligned curriculum is accessible via our online Platform which is designed to capture basic student proficiency, interest, and motivation data, delivering key learning insights into every classroom.

9 Dots also conducts formal research. Funded by the National Science Foundation and in collaboration with UCLA, our current project is “Programming as a Context for Making Problem Solving Visible: An Equity Focused K-5 Research Practice Partnership.” Classroom observations and interviews have revealed the central role of problem solving in how teachers conceptualize and value coding. In response to our findings, 9 Dots has begun to “operationalize” the problem solving process more explicitly, developing curriculum challenge “tags” associated with core coding concepts and skills.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this proposal?​

Direct Impact: 8,320

Indirect Impact: 10,420

Please describe the broader impact of your proposal.

9 Dots’ project will provide a model for a more rigorous definition of K-6 CS proficiency. Our hope is to increase understanding of not only how to measure proficiency in a meaningful way but what to measure in order to capture progress towards cognitive skills development that can help close the STEM achievement gap for underrepresented students.

The first of the Standards for Mathematical Practice, “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them” is highly aligned with learning outcomes associated with debugging. Capturing and extracting student debugging and problem solving proficiency at our partner schools will allow us to initiate longitudinal explorations of possible correlations with SBA Math problem solving area performance.

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

9 Dots currently measures proficiency by tracking students’ successful completion of challenges in our curriculum and in our Level Up Challenge assessments, with a 75% rating considered proficient. Our goal is to define and measure our proficiency score to better represent learning achievements in terms of a) specific attainments of coding skills with defined difficulty levels, but also b) measurable demonstration of the computational and problem solving skills set out in each lesson’s scope & sequence and applicable across STEM domains.

By tagging each coding challenge for specific concepts, difficulty level, and problem solving strategy, we will have the capacity to run complex proficiency analyses on student completion data and gain profound insights into what our students are learning. Core coding concepts include Loops, Functions, Conditionals, and Sequencing. Difficulty measures include coding skill complexity but also the approach the student is required to take, i.e. is the problem highly scaffolded or is it open ended, requiring students to apply what they have learned to create their own solution. Problem solving processes necessary to complete each challenge may include Pattern Recognition, Abstracting, Decomposing, Refactoring, and Debugging.

Our vision for success is one where every student in Los Angeles has access to a transformative CS education with measurable outcomes. We envision rigorous and joyful coding classrooms where students who have previously fallen behind or felt they did not belong in a STEM class are engaged; can demonstrate achievements that extend across subjects; and become creative and fearless learners who can persevere when facing difficult problems.

Which of the LEARN metrics will your submission impact?​

Proficiency in STEM

Which of LA2050’s resources will be of the most value to you?​

Access to the LA2050 community

Host public events or gatherings

Communications support