Move on When Ready

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More Arizona schools are getting involved in the second year of a national pilot program designed to allow high school students to move on to college or advanced coursework as early as their sophomore year. Dr. Sybil Francis, Executive Director of the Center for the Future of Arizona, provides an update on the Move on When Ready initiative.

Ted Simons: A program that allows high school students to move on to college, technical school, or advanced course work is in its second year in Arizona. And already, an increasing number of students and schools are opting for the accelerated program. Here to talk about Move On When Ready is Dr. Sybil Francis, executive director of the center for the future of Arizona and leader of the Move On When Ready initiative. Good to see you again.

Sybil Francis: Thank you, thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: It's 30 Arizona high schools now with this program. That is an increase, isn't it?

Sybil Francis: That is a huge increase. Last year we started with 12. The leading schools and then this year we've added 18. So we have a total of 30 schools.

Ted Simons: Why do you think this is happening?

Sybil Francis: I think there's a couple reasons. One is, there's great excitement about the idea that we could actually provide a program that would prepare kids for college. And in the state as a whole we're talking about preparing kids for college, concerned about graduation rates, concerned about kids not being prepared and needing remedial course work when they go to community college or to University. So there's a great hunger for knowing what college readiness looks like and to be able to deliver that and support the schools in doing it.

Ted Simons: So with that in mind, give us a definition of what Move On When Ready is.

Sybil Francis: What it really is, is using the school day and school year differently. Right now in order to gain a high school diploma in Arizona you need to pass all your course and pass the AIMS test at a 10th grade level. You may finish high school and have passed all your courses but you may not actually be ready for college. We're turning that around and we're saying, the goal really is college readiness. We don't care so much about how long it takes you. You might take a shorter time or longer time, but the goal is a performance-based mastery of the material you need to learn.

Ted Simons: What happens if it does take you a little bit longer to get to that level? It can only take you so long, eventually you'll have to graduate from high school, wouldn't you?

Sybil Francis: Sure. We've designed a program that we -- that is a foundational level for college readiness. In theory, and this has gotten a lot of attention, you could master that level in two years. We don't really expect a lot of students to do that right away because it's very rigorous. So in theory that becomes a foundational level. And the way we define college ready is the ability to move on to post-secondary work in your college ready -- in your college courses without needing remediation. Once you have that foundational level you can take more advanced courses, but some students may take two years. We think it's doable and accessible because we've set the level at a level of rigor that's high, but within reach for most students. So we think most students should be able to do this in four years if necessary.

Ted Simons: If they do it in three years, where do they go? what options do they have?

Sybil Francis: We see ourselves providing multiple options for students. So once they reach that benchmark, that college ready benchmark, we're saying, you could go on to community college if you wanted to. You could take more advanced courses to prepare yourself for selective University. Or you could deepen your work in a career and technical education. So when we say you reach that college-ready benchmark, which is represented by the Grand Canyon diploma, you have choices. You can stay in high school or move on. That's where the Move On When Ready name comes in.

Ted Simons: As far as the diploma, there's a performance-placed diploma, correct?

Sybil Francis: Yes.

Ted Simons: Talk to us about that.

Sybil Francis: The performance-based diploma is based on the recognition that you have achieved this college readiness level. A diploma today, you could be very, very academically accomplished, or you may not be ready for college and you may need to take remedial course work. It's kind of all over the map. So what we're saying is, it's the outcome of college readiness that we are aiming for and if you achieve that level, then you qualify for this Grand Canyon diploma.

Ted Simons: This is for schools, this is voluntary, correct?

Sybil Francis: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: What kind of funding is needed, what kind of funding have you seen as far as requirement and such?

Sybil Francis: Well, the schools have been able to implement this program within the funding that they have. It doesn't mean they've been able to do everything we think ideally they need to do. So probably the most demanding resources would be teacher time, teacher professional development, and then the assessments that students need to take are more expensive than current assessments. So that's where the challenge is in terms of finding the resources to do that.

Ted Simons: Indeed. The common course standards, which are just now getting a lot of attention because everyone's starting to go - hey wait a minute, these things are being implemented. Compare Move On When Ready to these particular common course standards for the state.

Sybil Francis: Well, the Move On When Ready curriculum is completely aligned with the common core. So we are really excited because our schools are the first in the state to actually be implementing the common core standards.

Ted Simons: Again, when you say prepares kids for college, prepares kids for careers, a parent watching right now will say, how exactly is my kid going to be better prepared for college or better prepared for a career just because of this particular path?

Sybil Francis: It has to do with how the instruction is delivered and the philosophy. So the instruction is delivered in such a way that students are developing their analytical capabilities, problem solving, writing capabilities, instead of being focused on passing a standardized test such as AIMS, the kinds of assessments we give to the students are really much richer and really drive the students and teachers to a much higher level of achievement. That's the way we accomplish this. It's a completely different delivery system for education, and then the benchmark is college readiness rather than the lower benchmark of simply passing your courses or passing AIMS.

Ted Simons: What are you hearing? Obviously more schools are getting involved. What kind of reaction are you getting? And what kind of challenges are these schools face something.

Sybil Francis: Well our schools, because it's voluntary, they're all very excited about this, and I think the excitement is really growing. We're very -- we've got great leaders in the superintendents, in principals, the teachers we're hearing are excited, the students, we had a school where the students when they took their exams came in suits and ties, that's how seriously they took this. The challenges really are, this is a very different way of structuring the school day, structuring the year. When one says this is Move On When Ready, and that it's not about the time it takes you need to take the time to prepare the student, that's a very different model. I'll give the quick example. If you take algebra I now and pass with a C minus, in a traditional system you go on to the next class math course, that is geometry. In this system a C minus you may pass your course in the traditional system but you may not be performing that kind of math at a level that you can succeed in math in college. So the school and the teachers need to find a way to supplement that student's experience. So the student is not just in lock step moving forward, they really have to create, carve out time in a day and identify the students that need help and support them.

Ted Simons: Well, sounds like obviously it must be working because the word is getting out and more schools are getting involved. Congratulations on your success and thank you for joining us.

Sybil Francis: Thank you.

Dr. Sybil Francis:Executive Director, Center for the Future of Arizona;

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