Do Secondary School Grades Predict the Performance of Engineering Students?

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1 INTRODUCTION

Colleges try to admit students who possess characteristics that are indicative of their ability to earn passing grades at the institution in their chosen major. Students who lack academic ability cannot benefit from the education being offered. Often students' failure can mean that a college program may be admitting students who are not able, or the program may be failing to provide necessary support services to those who are able. Therefore, it is to the best interests of the institution and the student to assess accurately the applicant's potential to succeed at the institution (Gutmann, 1987). Specifically, institutions hope to predict the first semester college grade point average (GPA), because students who fail during the first semester of college often also fail to continue on toward graduation (Astin, 1993; Tinto, 1993; Richards et al, 1999). Unfortunately, predicting academic success in college is difficult, and students from various backgrounds possess individual characteristics (Lovegreen, 2003) and abilities that make this assessment even more difficult (Astin, 1993).

High school grades provide college admission officers one good indication of student academic ability (Astin, 1993). However, they are not necessarily a good means of comparing students' experiences and achievements. This is because high school grades reflect the standards and quality of a particular school or school system. These standards differ according to region, school district and even individual schools. These between-school differences are not reflected in high school grades. Therefore, using high school grades alone does not give admission officers a clear indication of how applicants across various educational systems compare to one another in ability (Burton & Ramist, 2001).

To solve this problem, a system of standard examinations was created to provide an assessment of the cognitive ability of potential students. These standard tests are normally offered by corporations that are unaffiliated with any educational institution or government agency in order to provide a consistent measure by which colleges can compare student ability (Willingham, 1985; Willingham et al, 1990). Standardised tests provide a quantitative measure with a focus on student ability in mathematics, analytical reasoning, verbal and writing skills that are not associated with a particular high school curriculum (Etzkowitz et al, 2000).

2 CEPA TEST IN UAE HIGHER EDUCATION

The Common Educational Proficiency Assessment (CEPA) began as a joint venture between the National Admissions and Placement Office (NAPO) in the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and the three higher education institutions in the United Arab Emirates (UAE): UAE University, Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) and Zayed University. The ownership of CEPA by the three higher education institutions and Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research is registered at the Ministry of Economics. CEPA was developed originally to facilitate the placement of students for English language study purposes across the three higher education institutions.

From 2006, CEPA-English has been used to determine eligibility for placement into Higher Diploma and Bachelor's degree courses. Applicants must achieve a minimum score of 150 on CEPA-English, in addition to a minimum average of 70% on the GSC exam or equivalent, to be eligible for Bachelors' programs at the three institutions, and Higher Diploma programs at the HCT. Those scoring less than 150 on CEPA-English are automatically transferred to the HCT Diploma. Since 2006, CEPA has also included a mathematics component in order to facilitate the placement of students into mathematics courses at the three higher educational institutions. CEPA-Maths is used for placement in foundation mathematics programs only, and not for selection. However, CEPA-Maths is a compulsory part of the application process, and students without a CEPA-Maths score will not be considered eligible for higher education courses. …