WICKENBURG, Ariz. — Rather than following the traditional four-year path to a high school diploma, Wickenburg High School sophomore Carrigan Moebs hopes to prove she is ready to move on by the end of junior year.
Moebs is pursuing a Grand Canyon Diploma, approved by the state Legislature in 2010. Students in participating schools can earn the diploma as early as the end of their sophomore year by passing a series of board examinations.
Moebs said that finishing high school early would allow her to accelerate the years of college necessary to meet her career goals.
“I want to be a dentist, and that takes a lot of schooling,” Moebs said. “So I thought, ‘If I did get out of school earlier, that would give me more time to get my degree.’ ”
The Grand Canyon Diploma offered here is part of a new state educational program called Move On When Ready. It focuses on allowing students to move forward in school based on performance instead of time spent in the classroom.
Thirty high schools across Arizona are participating this year, though some aren’t offering the Grand Canyon Diploma or are using only parts of the full program.
Along with the new diploma, the program involves beefed-up curriculum and board examinations at the end of the year to measure progress.
Schools assess student performance with either the Cambridge International Board Examinations or ACT QualityCore.
Students who pass their exams and earn a Grand Canyon Diploma have the option to continue with upper-division high school studies, take classes at a community college, enter a vocational program or leave school to go to work.
Arizona’s Move On When Ready initiative is a part of a National Center on Education and the Economy program, Excellence for All, designed to make sure all students are graduating ready for college.
Betsy Brown Ruzzi, the group’s vice president, said the program sets new expectations in schools and gives students options once they prove they can meet the tough standards.
“It’s saying to these students that when you are ready all of these choices are available to you,” Ruzzi said.
Arizona’s Move On When Ready initiative is led by the Center for the Future of Arizona, which works with schools implementing the model.
Sybil Francis, the group’s executive director, said that the goal is making sure students are ready for college.
“Whenever a student graduates they need to be ready, and that’s not really how our current system is designed,” she said.
Francis said that the current system of counting how many credits students earn doesn’t demonstrate college readiness.
“This is not about trying to get students to graduate early,” she said. “This is not an early graduation program. We want more students to graduate college ready.”
Jacquelyn Jacobson, principal of Wickenburg High School, noticed that many of the school’s graduates were having to take remedial courses to catch up in college.
“We noticed that, along with the rest of the nation, our kids were walking out of our doors not college-ready,” she said.
As a part of the program, the school has toughened its curriculum for this year’s freshmen, requiring that they meet higher levels of comprehension and analytical skills.
“The focus tends to be on the depth of knowledge rather than the superficial definition of a word or memory of a date,” Jacobson said.
Wickenburg implemented the new model this year, so this year’s freshmen will be the first to take the tougher classes.
A small group of transfer students, including Moebs, started taking Move On classes last year at their former schools and are continuing the program as sophomores at Wickenburg.
Students and teachers alike are finding the new curriculum challenging, Jacobson said.
Janet Holland, who teaches freshman biology and algebra at Wickenburg High School, said that the new standards are more rigorous.
“I think kids have kind of slid along for a while,” Holland said. “Now we’re expecting more of them.”
The school has instituted intervention programs for students who fall behind, including review sessions and after-school study help.
For students who meet the requirements and earn a Grand Canyon Diploma, Wickenburg is offering tuition reimbursement for community college. Students who complete the diploma at the end of their sophomore year will get two years of reimbursement, while those earning it as juniors will get one year.
Moebs said she encourages others to take advantage of the opportunity.
“But also, you have to have the right mindset for it and you have to realize that it’s going to be a lot of studying,” she said.