In Arizona, hundreds of high school students are now being offered the opportunity to graduate after their sophomore year — as long as they prove their academic mettle.
As a part of an innovative initiative called Move On When Ready, high-achieving students who prove they are capable of taking college-level courses without remedial help, are allowed to move on regardless of their class stature.
Launched in 2011-2012, last school year about 12 schools in the state participated. This fall, the Center for the Future of Arizona (which supports the initiative and establishes the program in schools) estimates 30 high schools—including district, charter and private—now have Move On When Ready programs in place.
"We were interested in participating because it's important for our students to have as many opportunities as possible for whatever career or college pathway they choose when they're finished with us," Cindy Miller, assistant superintendent for academic services in the Dysart Unified School District, told the Arizona Republic News. The Dysart Unified School District added the Move On program to two high schools this 2012-2013 school year.
High schools, which voluntarily sign up for Move On, agree to implement a high-expectations, performance-based program for every student. Rather than gauging a student’s success by the amount of “seat time” or years logged in school, the student’s advancement is achieved when he or she masters the curriculum.
At the end of a student’s sophomore year, a rigorous exam is administered. If the student performs at a college-ready level, he or she will be given a Grand Canyon High School Diploma. At that point, the student can stay in high school and take more advanced courses for a selective college process, enter a community college or go on to pursue career and technical courses. If the student does not pass the exam, there will be another opportunity after junior year. The first batch of sophomores to aim for the Grand Canyon Diploma will take the test this spring.
Arizona has been a key state for recent educational innovations. The statewide graduation rate is approximately 70 percent, and many who do graduate require remedial courses at the college level.
The Move On initiative is part of the National Center for Education and the Economy's Excellence for All program which is working to create high-performance high schools also in Connecticut, Kentucky and Mississippi.
“Move On When Ready was created in response to K-12 readiness issues facing Arizona's students and the reality that students need an education beyond high school to succeed in today's global economy,” Dr. Sybil Francis, executive director of the Center for The Future of Arizona, said in a statement. “The majority of students who enter college have to take remedial courses—courses that don't count for credit. Move On When Ready was developed with all students in mind to let them know what is required for them to be successful in their education beyond high school, and to provide a way for them to get there with less concern about how long it takes."
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Kristin Kloberdanz is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She has written for Time, the Chicago Tribune and Forbes.com about everything from economic crises and political snafus to best summer beach reads.