Move on When Ready, a program that allows high school students to move on to college and career when they have mastered certain subjects, is celebrating its fifth anniversary February 10. When students master subject matter, they earn the Grand Canyon High School Diploma, which is based on mastery of skills as opposed to seat time. Sybil Francis, the executive director of the Center for the Future of Arizona, which runs Move on When Ready, will discuss the program along with Michael O’Sullivan, chief executive of Cambridge International Examinations, an organization that provides international qualifications for students ages five to 19.
Ted Simons: "Move On When Ready" is a customized education and graduation program based on the mastery of subjects as opposed to how long students have been in school. "Move On When Ready" is celebrating its fifth anniversary. Here now to talk about the program is Sybil Francis , executive director of the Center for the Future of Arizona, which runs "Move On When Ready," and we welcome Mike O'Sullivan: , chief executive of Cambridge International Examinations, which provides international qualifications for "Move On When Ready" and other students, as well. Good to have you here.
Mike O'Sullivan: Sure.
Ted Simons: Good to see you again, as well. Give me a better definition of "Move On When Ready."
Sybil Francis: First of all, Ted, thank you so much for having me back. It's very exciting. We did talk with you when we first got it started. The future of Arizona is very interested in re-thinking on how we're designing our educational system and keeping up to date. "Move On When Ready" is one of those educational initiatives that we are involved in. It really stems from the fact that our education system has changed and we need to keep up with that. A hundred years ago, nobody went to high school. 50 years ago high school was an end point. Now kids need to graduate college career ready. "Move On When Ready" is a system that we work with 20 schools to deliver, which basically says we believe all students can succeed and all students need to be prepared to be college and career ready when they graduate.
Ted Simons: When you're working with 20-some-odd schoolws, 26,000 or so, how does that work? Separate classrooms or teachers?
Sybil Francis: Many of our schools are whole school model, meaning every single student is engaged in this program. It's mastery versus seat time. They have checked the boxes that they have taken the courses. That does not mean they are ready for college or career. When they get to college they need remedial coursework. What we're saying is let's flip this equation on its head and say we're committed to every student being college and career ready. Some students will take more time in certain subjects, some students will master them more quickly. But in the end, they are all reaching for the same bar.
Ted Simons: Cambridge International Examinations, what is that?
Mike O'Sullivan: Well, we're part of the University of Cambridge, usually considered one of the top 10 Universities in the world, eight of them of course are here in the USA. But we stand out in one respect, we're the only one of those universities that owns and runs a global not for profit exam board which also offers a K-12 curriculum and instructional system for teachers.
Ted Simons: And you work with "Move On When Ready" and other folks around the country?
Mike O'Sullivan: We do. We do a lot of work in several states but particularly in Colorado. We're very proud of this which has now run for five years. I think it's making a real difference in the attainment of students in schools.
Ted Simons: How is it making a real difference?
Mike O'Sullivan: A couple of things but let me start with the students. We talk a lot about making schools deliver better education. But education is about what students learn. What I've seen today, I went to desert high school this morning and the governor had a similar experience in Yuma yesterday. Students on this program, talking ninth and 10th grade students, who say this is tougher, it's inspiring us, we are learning more.
Ted Simons: How are they learning more, there is a different way to present this information, a different way to teach it? Or are you basically just saying student A should be moving at this paint, student B at another pace?
Sybil Francis: The beauty of our relationship with Cambridge is they know how to define and express what college and career readiness looks like. We have a great bar we're aiming for. It also provides information to teachers and schools about how do we help gets students that point. Students for example, what happens is a student may take biology their first year as freshman in high school. In the current student system, if the student passes they go on to the next course. In this system we're expecting students to be proficient in biology at a college ready level before they can move on from biology. For some students, they are going to need to do more in-depth work. The way we're able to do that, the Cambridge International Examinations systems provide very high quality data that says this student needs this kind of support, this other students needs another kind of support, and this is very important for the teachers.
Ted Simons: Have those guidelines changed in just the past five years or so?
Mike O'Sullivan: They change all the time, Ted. Education can't stand still. Scientific knowledge changes, research shows better ways to organize education. All of our syllabi are reworked and revised about every five to seven years to make sure they stay competitive.
Ted Simons: Have you had blow-back from the education community on some of this?
Mike O'Sullivan: I must say the feedback here in Arizona is terrific. We're really well rewarded by the commitment of teachers and principals in the schools. Above all, by the passion students are bringing to this. Let me give an example. Just last year, prep surprise high school here, 80% of the 9th grade students demonstrated college readiness on the rigorous international college assessments, measuring up against strong students all over the world.
Ted Simons: I seem to remember there was a Grand Canyon high school diploma, what is that?
Sybil Francis: Absolutely. A student may earn a Grand Canyon diploma if they are able to show college and career readiness in every academic subject. They need to show college readiness in math, English, the sciences, history and other required courses. It's not just focused on math and English. The students are finding, as well as the teachers, are so stimulated by this program because it is very high quality. What do we mean by high quality: It promotes analytical thinking, problem solving, addressing issues we've never seen before, deeper thinking. Teachers and students both are very excited about this kind of approach to teaching and learning.
Ted Simons: But with that Grand Canyon high school diploma. My kid gets that he and automatically gets out of school and into college? Or does he or she have to stay in school?
Sybil Francis: The Grand Canyon diploma signifies that the student is prepared to take the entry level courses in college without remediation should they choose to go that route. Now as you and I discussed a few years ago, some students who are very well prepared and motivated and working hard could achieve that potentially after two years. Yes, they could move on to community college, let's say, but most families are probably not going to want to do that. It is an option once they earn the Grand Canyon diploma. These pathways open up to them. Students love to have choice, they can take dual enrollment courses, advanced courses in the Cambridge system, or full-time career and technical education.
Ted Simons: Are you seeing a general improvement just overall, the grand scheme of things, are you seeing kids, are they getting this he and getting their act together out there?
Mike O'Sullivan: Yes, they are. I think we have to emphasize these are not the most privileged public schools in the state. These are ordinarily schools that included schools that were considered struggling, schools with a high presence of minority communities. These are real schools.
Sybil Francis: It's a very important point.
Ted Simons: 50% of Latino low-income households as far as Arizona is concerned.
Sybil Francis: Right. This is a very, very important point. We are all committed to all students succeeding and believe that all can succeed; the bar, while very rigorous, is set at level all students can and should succeed. It's very appealing to high achieving students as well as students who may have struggled and we're supporting them to reach those levels.
Ted Simons: Very quickly, what's next for Move On When Ready?
Sybil Francis: We'd like to expand the number of schools that we're working in and frankly, even though we're at our five-year celebration mark, we're just getting to a point where these students are graduating high school. We're going to want to track them through their postsecondary experience see how they do, and keep learning from the program and improving what we're doing.
Ted Simons: What's next for you?
Mike O'Sullivan: Look at grades 1-8 and see how they can improve before they get onto these programs because that's where you'll see the really big payback.
Ted Simons: Interesting, good stuff. Good have you both here. Congratulations.
Sybil Francis: Thank you.
Mike O'Sullivan: Thank you.
Sybil Francis:The executive director of the Center for the Future of Arizona; Michael O'Sullivan: Chief executive of Cambridge International Examinations