Funding decisions in education are never easy, but should always follow success. Accelerated coursework, like Advanced Placement (AP), is one of those proven tools for success.

An Arizona Chamber Foundation policy brief, hot off today’s press, sheds light on the positive results associated with students who have access to advanced coursework and related testing. Programs like AP, International Baccalaureate (IB), Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), and College Board’s CLEP are examples of programs of study and/or testing that help prepare students for success in post-secondary education and result in early college credit.

Research shows that advanced coursework makes a significant difference in student success, and especially so for Arizona’s low-income and minority student populations. Benefits to these students include higher four-year college going rates, retention rates, grade point averages, and SAT scores compared to their non-AP peers. One study finds that African American and Hispanic students who succeed in AP courses are four times more likely to graduate from college. Another study reveals that 47 percent of Hispanic students pursuing a bachelor’s degree will earn their degree if they previously participated in these acceleration opportunities compared to 6 percent who did not. Given that Hispanic students make up the majority of our K-12 population, we cannot ignore results like this in Arizona.

Given what we know about the benefits of AP and similar programs, shouldn’t our next step be to offer the program to more students?

The policy brief explores a number of strategies to expand programs and to do so effectively. These include incentives to schools with high pass rates on AP and other high quality exams that result in college credit and to provide adequate support and resources for teachers and students so we see both enrollment and pass rates go up.

Another benefit of students gaining college level credit by examination should be that we not demand an additional state test on that same material. There should be an option to substitute these highly reputable examinations for the same subject test on the AzMERIT state test. Increasing choice in end-of-year assessment methods goes hand in hand with increasing access to advanced coursework. Many of Arizona’s most innovative and successful schools have opted for such rigorous curriculum and related testing outside of Arizona’s current end-of-year examination, AzMERIT.

In effect, this allows schools and students to “opt up” without double testing.

As it stands, many students are taking both AzMERIT and another exam on exactly the same material but likely at a higher degree of difficulty. This means more time, energy, money, and resources dedicated to prepping and administering two different exams. We can eliminate this requirement and redirect those resources to student learning by allowing schools to select from a state board approved test that reflects their more rigorous curriculum.

One school system to embrace an enhanced curriculum is Yuma Union High School District (YUHSD), which partnered with the Helios Education Foundation to implement the Cambridge International Curriculum and Examination. In four years since the district adopted the new curriculum, YUHSD has seen the number of students taking college credit-bearing exams increase from 1,909 to 2,283. More importantly, they have seen the rate of students earning a passing score or higher grow from 25 to 32 percent. Now that’s a great return on investment and represents hundreds more students succeeding and gaining preparedness for college and next steps.

Arizona has made great strides in the last year alone to keep our collective focus on achievement and tackling policy solutions that realize meaningful outcomes for all students. Rep. Paul Boyer and Sen. Sylvia Allen deserve a great deal of credit for their disciplined approaches to offering ever more choice in schooling, especially in curriculum and assessment, in the House and Senate Education Committees they respectively chair. We sincerely appreciate these two dedicated leaders and the opportunity to work with them to improve educational outcomes in Arizona.

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