More than 200 kids at Amphitheater High School could get a diploma after spending just two years sitting in classes, instead of four.
School officials hope a relatively new state program will get more students ready for college while improving the school’s graduation rate and academic standing.
Amphitheater is taking part in the state Move On When Ready program, which measures student progress through a curriculum developed by the University of Cambridge and a series of tests designed to measure college readiness.
Instead of earning a certain number of credits required to graduate, students take seven tests during their freshmen and sophomore years to measure their college preparedness.
If they pass the tests, the students could receive a special “Grand Canyon” diploma by the end of their sophomore year. It’s equivalent to a high school diploma.
The students could either attend a community college or take more advanced classes in high school, said Amphi Principal Jon Lansa.
The curriculum emphasizes techniques such as college note-taking skills, as well as students demonstrating a deeper understanding of class topics.
Most students will likely stay in high school, either because they didn’t pass the tests by the end of their sophomore year or they want to take vocational classes and other college preparatory courses, Lansa said.
Amphitheater adopted the program before the 2012-13 school year, he said.
It was designed to prepare students to attend college without having to take remedial courses once they reach campus, said Amanda Burke, director of education strategy and innovation for the Center for the Future of Arizona.
The center oversees Move on When Ready, which was approved by state lawmakers in 2010.
There are more than 40 middle and high schools that volunteered to take part in the program, Burke said.
More than half of students in Arizona who attend community college have to take a remedial class, which shows a lack of college preparation, Burke said.
“Those are the kinds of gaps we’re trying to address,” Burke said.
For Lansa, the program also serves as an opportunity to reform the school.
Amphitheater received a “D” rating in the latest edition of the Arizona Department of Education grades released earlier this month.
“This is an established rigorous curriculum that we needed to get in place,” he said, in order for the school to elevate the level of instruction and curriculum and accelerate the school improvement process.
There are about 200 freshmen and sophomores in the program, which is dubbed the Cambridge Academy because of the curriculum.
School officials picked most of those students because of their middle school grades, desire to go to college and other factors.
Although the Cambridge curriculum is regarded as rigorous, the students range from those on track to be first generation college students to English-language learners and special education students.
Some of the students, such as Tristan Cunningham, enrolled at Amphitheater to attend the program, although he lives in Oro Valley.
“I came here to get done in two years,” said Cunningham, 15, a sophomore. “I didn’t want to be stuck in high school for four years.”
Cunningham has learned how to identify the most important information in his classes, especially history, and he has become more organized, he said.
“I’ve learned I need to plan it out and get it done before, just in case I need to change anything,” he said, referring to his assignments.
Other students want to finish the classes and pass the tests but remain in high school.
Monserrat Solano, 15, enjoys football games and other events, but she has already experienced some of the pressures of college.
For example, the sophomore said had to learn how to juggle after-school soccer practice with tutoring sessions and strict deadlines for class assignments, she said.
“The pressure helps you get ready” for college, she said. “If they give you a date, you have to bring in the homework on that date.”