Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 8
U.K. Curriculum Import Becoming Increasingly Popular
challenges AP, IB
HOW ADVANCED PROGRAMS STACK UP
Cambridge joins two other major providers of advanced courses in the United States. Like the IB, Cambridge offers classes in the primary grades as well as in high school.
By Stephen Sawchuk
No, but teachers must submit theirs for
review. Also publishes exam frameworks
$116 (diploma program only)
Here at Potomac High School,
students are sorting stacks of note
cards. Each represents a facet of a
research paper they're currently
working on-part of an international
exam that can confer college credit,
and for some, a specialized diploma.
Senior Brandon Cleveland is looking at whether countries and sporting
organizations should legalize performance-enhancing drugs. His piles include one on research on whether drug
testing is effective, one on the most
common drugs and their effects on
humans, and one on cycling. His classmate Hajrah Choudhry is working on
an essay about the media's culpability
in Islamophobia. Her topics include
variations in hate-crime laws and
media norms in different countries.
Their essays have to go beyond surface-level Google research to include
international and scholarly sources,
looking into how different countries
and communities have wrestled with
the topic. And as the students are
learning, it isn't always easy to find
the right resources.
"The research is so recent, it's kind
of hard to find some of these articles,"
said Owen Kidd, a junior, whose
essay is on the link between professional sports like soccer and football
and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease that can
result from head trauma.
Global Perspectives is one of the
aligned system of courses and exams
offered by Cambridge Assessment
International Education, a nonprofit
import from the United Kingdom.
Although still fairly unknown in
this country, Cambridge is starting
to compete seriously against more
popular academically challenging
programs like Advanced Placement
and the International Baccalaureate, betting it can make gains among
schools that see analysis-especially
as expressed through writing-as a
route to school improvement and college readiness.
More districts are taking notice.
Requires Subject Mastery
Students say the exams, usually
heavily essay-based, are often deceptively simple, because while the
prompts are short, it's not possible to
answer them without subject mastery. In Cleveland's words: "There's
always something you have to add to
the question, something deeper."
It's a common refrain among students who have sat for the exams.
"You do have to know really indepth what you're talking about,"
said Leah Strumf, a senior at Brentsville High School, another school in
the Prince William County district
using the program. "They're not really looking for content; they're looking for analysis on the topic. Can you
make a judgment about it? Can you
recognize your biases?"
Despite debuting in the United
No. of Participating U.S. Schools
No. of Exams Taken in the U.S., 2016-17
Number of U.S. Colleges that Accept Credit
Cost per exam***
*Currently piloting a pre-AP system, to debut this fall. **Figure is rounded. ***Does not include scholarships or the programs' other various fees for resources and training.
SOURCES: The College Board; The International Baccalaureate; Cambridge AIE.
States in 1995, Cambridge initially
made little effort to promote itself in
this country. Now its U.S. branch is
Across the spectrum of offerings,
which begin as early as primary
school and span most subjects, the
number of Cambridge exams taken
by students has doubled since 2013 to
more than 100,000. (Many students
take more that one.)
Philosophically, Cambridge sits
somewhere between the AP and the
IB. It is less all-encompassing and interdisciplinary than the IB. But it is
more prescriptive than AP, setting a
detailed syllabus or content plan for
It is a division of an organization
that emerged in 1858 from the University of Cambridge, and remains
tied to the 800-year-old institution.
In a sense, what makes Cambridge
traditional-its focus on the liberal
arts, rich texts, and well-thoughtout argumentation-is also what
makes it new again, in an age of tech
saturation and loosely defined concepts like personalized learning. Its
syllabuses tend to prize depth over
breadth, with humanities exams
changing every few years to reflect
different "set texts" or different periods of history.
Much of Cambridge's current work
is now focused on bringing interested
districts on board and getting the
courses accepted in state policy-so
that students who pass the exams
can earn college credit or weighted
grade point averages.
"We're really seeing a major
growth up the East Coast, but it's
a highly top-down market. And a
lot of the steps and building blocks
need to be put in place before you
can really start to grow," said Mark
Cavone, Cambridge's regional director in the U.S.
Cambridge can be costly, on the
order of $93 per exam per student,
which is covered here by the Prince
William district. For new schools,
Cambridge also assesses a one-time
school inspection fee. Resources and
training also cost money.
Data show that the largest growth
in Cambridge courses has been in high
schools. But some observers like Marc
Tucker, the president of the National
Center on Education and the Economy,
who chose the curriculum for a school
improvement pilot his group began in
8 | EDUCATION WEEK | February 28, 2018 | www.edweek.org
Arizona, feel that Cambridge could
be more powerful if adopted in earlier
grades, so students have time to develop the prerequisite skills.
"If used as part of a systemic reform, Cambridge is an incredibly
powerful tool to change metacognition," he said. "But in Florida and in
many of the places where it's been
used, it is used as an elite program."
Increasingly, though, the group is
billing itself as a route to increase equity and reduce achievement gaps in
schools. Several of its newer district
partnerships, in Nashville, Tenn.,
and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.,
have incorporated the program in
larger improvement efforts.
Goodbye, Multiple Choice
School administrators here say
they appreciate the flexibility the
program offers and the way it can
complement other goals, like a cybersecurity pathway Potomac offers,
without subordinating them."We
have kids in the welding program
who are also taking a Cambridge
course," said Michael Wright, Potomac's principal.
The Cambridge imprint can be
seen throughout these two district
high schools, even down to the quiz
that Potomac English teacher Yasmin Griffin gives students on Ralph
Ellison's The Invisible Man: It prioritizes writing over multiple choice.
There are very few multiple-choice
questions on Cambridge exams in
general, and none in the humanities.
With students, Griffin emphasizes
how to annotate novels for clues to
the authors' tone, syntax, and use of
dialect. "I tell them it's like an ongoing conversation they have with the
novel," she said. And it will set them
up well for their Cambridge English
Language exam, in which among
other things, they'll have to complete
a text while mimicking its author's
style and tone.
Cambridge high school math
courses combine some calculus with
either statistics or physics, rather
than the traditional Algebra 1, geometry, Algebra 2 course sequence.
And it de-emphasizes memorization
of theorems and proofs.
"We skip over some of the theoretical underpinnings and go into the real
world applications, which is honestly
why students often find it challenging.
Every question is a word problem,"
said Brentsville math teacher Juli
Dempewolf. "I think that's the hardest part for U.S. students, the question
they ask about math: 'When am I ever
going to use this?'
"I will say with this curriculum,
my students can always tell you what
the point is."
Science exams, meanwhile, contain a laboratory component, where
students are expected to conduct an
experiment on their own, not merely
observe or predict its outcomes.
Learning How to Argue
Global Perspectives is a newer addition to the Cambridge stable. It is
required for students who attempt
to earn the Cambridge Advanced
International Certificate Diploma,
granted to students who get passing
scores on a series of the exams across
several content disciplines.
Students who earn the credential
have demonstration of mastery they
can carry to hundreds of universities worldwide. Usually only a handful of students at these high schools
try for the diploma and fewer complete it, though student scores are
generally trending upward. (In the
U.S., about 70 percent of students
who tried for the diploma in recent
As a capstone course, Global Perspectives encapsulates the Cambridge philosophy: research, argumentation, and reflection. The first
"paper," as Cambridge calls exam
components, focused on comparing
two articles and judging the strength
of their arguments and sourcing.
"This class has given kids a chance
to develop a skill and not just a body
of knowledge. And those are skills
professors want to have them in
college, to be critical of what they
read," said Catherine Mumford, who
teaches the course at Potomac.
As students craft their essays,
teachers can help them to generate
ideas or outline their findings, and
they can suggest fresh avenues for
research. But they can't actually
mark up the completed essay. That's
left for the Cambridge examiners.
Students at Brentsville have
started exchanging early drafts
with their peers for feedback. Many
struggle, though, with the process of
refuting a counter-argument, one of
the expectations that the Cambridge
graders want to see, so that's the
focus of teacher Carolyn Weddel's
She warms up by having her students, one by one, take slips of paper
from her "refutation jar," filled with
statements they've written earlier
in the class. Each student gets a few
moments to come up with a plan for
refuting the argument.
First up, for an unlucky student
who hasn't yet taken global history:
"The Cultural Revolution is one of
the worst events in China."
Weddel took Cambridge courses as
a Brentsville student in the 1990s,
when few colleges knew what the
program was or how to recognize students that had completed its courses.
Now, more than 600 colleges do.
But much can depend on teachers' skill at implementing the program. Those used to other rigorous
programs, in particular, sometimes
struggle to respond to the different
emphases in Cambridge courses,
Weddel noted. "I don't think it's a
lack of interest or a lack of belief in
Cambridge. It's just such a different
model than what teachers are taught
with standards-based, AP-based
classes," she said.
Teacher training can still be a challenge, administrators here say, since
until recently teachers generally had
to travel to Florida, where the largest
concentration of participating schools
is. Prince William's Parkside Middle
School, the county's only lower secondary to use the Cambridge classes,
is now an approved training provider.
There are also tensions inherent
in squeezing an essentially British
system around American mandates.
Mumford, who has taught the program's U.S. history course in Prince
William, also had to cover Virginia
state history standards, on which
students are tested separately.
Weddel says it's all been worth
it to teach Global Perspectives,
however. "This is the sort of class
you dream you'll get to teach before you're a teacher," Weddel
said. "Not being limited by really
rigid standards allows me to flex
to the interests and needs of the
students, and they feel like they're
included in the process."
Librarians Holly Peele and Maya RiserKositsky contributed to this report.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - February 28, 2018
Education Week - February 28, 2018
News in Brief
Computer Science for All: Can Schools Make It Happen?
Pressure to Graduate Failing Students Is Felt Nationwide
U.K. Curriculum Import Becoming Increasingly Popular
Missouri Tackles Challenge of Dyslexia Screening, Services
Lost Sense of School As a Safe Place
Grief and Rage Drive Students To Demand Changes to Gun Laws
A Florida City Forever Changed
Lockdown Drills Prompt Fear, Stress After Parkland
A Long Journey Ahead Seen For Survivors of Shooting
On Social Media, Teens Witness, Grieve, Organize
Legal Issues Loom for District In Shooting’s Wake
One State’s Dive Into K-12 Aid Figures
States Confront ESSA Mandate on Spending Transparency
Several Ed. Dept. Offices Target of Reorganization
Trump Seeks Ed. Dept. Budget Cuts
The Editors: What Should Betsy DeVos Prioritize?
Margaret Spellings: Higher Education
Marilyn Anderson Rhames: Teacher Quality
Karla Phillips: Personalization
Maddie Fennell: Leadership by Example
Shaun M. Dougherty: Career and Tech Ed
Mike Tenbusch : The ‘Have Nots’
Rafiq R. Kalam Id-Din II: Racial-Equity Agenda
Erin McGrath: Lack of Choice
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Jerrod Wheeler: Impact Aid Is a Lifeline for Military-Connected Kids
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Education Week - February 28, 2018
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 2
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 3
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Report Roundup
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 5
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Computer Science for All: Can Schools Make It Happen?
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Pressure to Graduate Failing Students Is Felt Nationwide
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - U.K. Curriculum Import Becoming Increasingly Popular
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Missouri Tackles Challenge of Dyslexia Screening, Services
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Lost Sense of School As a Safe Place
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Grief and Rage Drive Students To Demand Changes to Gun Laws
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - A Florida City Forever Changed
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 13
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Lockdown Drills Prompt Fear, Stress After Parkland
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - A Long Journey Ahead Seen For Survivors of Shooting
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Legal Issues Loom for District In Shooting’s Wake
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 17
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - States Confront ESSA Mandate on Spending Transparency
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Several Ed. Dept. Offices Target of Reorganization
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Trump Seeks Ed. Dept. Budget Cuts
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 21
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Maddie Fennell: Leadership by Example
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Erin McGrath: Lack of Choice
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Letters
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 25
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - 27
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - Jerrod Wheeler: Impact Aid Is a Lifeline for Military-Connected Kids
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - CW1
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - CW2
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - CW3
Education Week - February 28, 2018 - CW4