Academic journal article College and University

PREPARING FOR COLLEGE SUCCESS: Exploring the Impact of the High School CAMBRIDGE ACCELERATION PROGRAM on U.S. University Students

Academic journal article College and University

PREPARING FOR COLLEGE SUCCESS: Exploring the Impact of the High School CAMBRIDGE ACCELERATION PROGRAM on U.S. University Students

Article excerpt

Central to the growing debate about postsecondary education in the United States is the extent to which many students are underprepared for college-level study (Barnes et al. 2010; Barnes and Slate 2010; Camara 2013; Conley 2011; Kahlenberg 2010; Ravitch 2010; Rosenbaum, Stephan and Rosenbaum 2010; Symonds, Schwartz and Ferguson 2011; Zhao 2009, Zhao and Liu 2011).

Attention in the United States has focused on the capability of high school acceleration strategies to produce students who are able to advance directly to college-level courses (Clinedinst, Hurley and Hawkins 2013; Judy, Ebmeyer and Schneider 2015; Killgore 2009; Rubin 2014). Acceleration programs are one of the main policy mechanisms for increasing college enrollment because they can have positive effects on cognitive strategies, content knowledge, and learning skills and techniques, as well as on the affective aspects of students' transition from high school to university education (Camara 2013; Conley 2010, 2011a, 2011b).

Recent research at Cambridge International Examinations (hereafter Cambridge) has sought to investigate the claims it makes for its international programs' preparation of students for continued studies at U.S. colleges and universities. The credibility ofthe Cambridge acceleration program is reliant, to a large degree, upon the claims it makes about its curricula, the skills students develop, and, importantly, the research it has conducted to support such claims.

The current research explores the experiences, attitudes, and views of college students who completed the Cambridge program in relation to their transition and early experiences at one U.S. university.


The Cambridge acceleration program includes the International Advanced Subsidiary (AS) and Advanced (A) Levels-a global set ofexaminations for sixteen- to nineteen-year-olds. Cambridge International AS and A Level aim to develop learners' knowledge, understanding, and skills in in-depth subject content and to encourage independent thinking; the application of knowledge and understanding to new as well as familiar situations; logical thinking and presentation of ordered and coherent arguments; and work and communication in English. In the United States, students can earn a Cambridge AICE Diploma by passing a prescribed number of Cambridge International AS and/ or A Level examinations, including one from each of three subject groups: mathematics and sciences; languages (foreign and first); and arts and humanities.

The claimed skills developed on and the purported rigors of the Cambridge program relate closely to those factors (e.g., academic achievement, strength of high school curriculum studied) recognized by the National Association for College Admission Counseling as being important in admissions decisions (Clinedinst, Hurley and Hawkins 2013). The academic rigor of the Cambridge program reflects research by Rubin (2014), who surveyed 63 of the 75 most selective colleges and universities (defined as those with the lowest acceptance rates). In terms of academic ability, the most important aspect across institutions was the rigor of the courses taken (57 percent), followed by high school GPA (27 percent). Rubin defines rigor as the most difficult courses available to students in their high school. Students taking these courses show their determination to challenge themselves and their eagerness to learn (Shaw 2011).


With regard to the impact of acceleration strategies on college performance, the literature is mixed.

Standardized Tests

A large-scale national validity study of the revised sat (incorporating an additional section in writing and minor changes to the verbal and mathematics sections) was undertaken by Kobrin et al. (College Board 2008). The study was based on data from 150,000 students entering 110 U.S. four-year colleges and universities in fall 2006 and completing their first year of college in May/June 2007. …

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