With a goal to better prepare students for the future, this year 14 Arizona schools adopted the state's plan to boost academics and give early high school diplomas to students who can prove their readiness for college.
And one East Valley charter school has joined the group.
Freshmen at Mesa's ASU Preparatory Academy Polytechnic are using the Cambridge Curriculum, developed in the United Kingdom and used in more than 170 countries, said Deborah Gonzalez, chief academic officer. Arizona State University operates two such charter schools - the one in Mesa and one in downtown Phoenix. Both added freshmen to their campuses this year. The schools already had kindergarten through eighth grades.
"We recognize the Arizona state standards were not preparing our students to be ready to go to college," Gonzalez said of the schools' decision to adopt Cambridge. "And if we could work with the (early diploma) plan and, in our case, the Cambridge Curriculum, that would allow us to adopt an internationally recognized curriculum, a decision that would guarantee our students would be prepared to graduate from the university."
Arizona lawmakers adopted the "Move on When Ready" legislation in 2010. Under the plan, after studying under a rigorous curriculum, such as Cambridge, students can take an internationally recognized test in spring of their sophomore year - the Cambridge International Examinations or ACT QualityCore. Once they pass that exam, as well as Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, they can receive the Grand Canyon Diploma.
After that, they can move on to study under an International Baccalaureate program or an Advanced Placement program or take career training or community college classes.
"It's a pretty significant commitment schools made, preparing or changing curriculum, getting teachers prepared and getting buy-in from parents," said Sybil Francis, executive director of the Center for the Future of Arizona. "More and more schools are interested in getting involved, especially as they see more and more schools implementing this successfully, we're anticipating this to grow."
The center is the starting point for schools that want to implement the program. In fact, it will be offering three informational sessions in the Valley this fall for schools to learn more about it.
This fall, 14 schools are starting the program, with most of them adopting it for all their students, Francis said. Three more are signed on for next fall. The Yuma Union High School District has adopted it for all their schools.
"The primary objective of ‘Move on When Ready' is to significantly enhance the proportion of Arizona high school students who graduate college- and career-ready," said Francis. "Participating schools will focus more on demonstrated mastery of learning and less on seat time, to ensure that every student, not just the high-achieving student, reaches a minimum level of college-readiness that prepares them to succeed, whether their next step is an occupational or technical license, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree."
Right now, Francis said, between 60 percent and 70 percent of Arizona's high school students who do go to college have to take at least one remedial class in college.
Though students could complete the program in two years, Francis said, they can take as long as they need.
"I think people who don't know about the details get alarmed when they hear students can graduate at the end of the sophomore year. It's not about their sophomore year. It's about being able to master what's required of them," she said.
No East Valley school districts are in the program now. But several, including Mesa Unified and Tempe Union High School District, are exploring the option.