College and Career Readiness in Arizona

Author: Michelle Boehm, Analytics and Evaluation Director

January 23, 2019

As part of Helios Education Foundation’s College Knowing & Going initiative and the College Readiness Pilot program conducted by the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education, over 44,000 students took the ACT or SAT in the 2017-2018 academic year. The graphic below highlights where participating school districts were located and the assessment they selected.

With access to data on 55% of Arizona juniors across  both initiatives, Helios and the Commission came together to examine college readiness, high school course-taking, and postsecondary aspirations and outcomes in the brief, College and Career Readiness in Arizona: An Examination of Results from Arizona’s Nationally Recognized College-Readiness Examination Pilot and College Knowing & Going.  It should be noted that SAT data was limited; thus, data trends focus on ACT outcomes.  SAT college readiness data can be viewed on page 25 of the brief.

Overall, the data revealed that the majority of juniors in the state are not prepared to succeed in college by ACT’s college readiness standards. In fact, 16% of juniors from the College Readiness Pilot and 13% of students from both initiatives combined met all four college readiness benchmarks.


Another key trend that emerged were gaps between White students and many of their minority peers in terms of college readiness. While 22% of White students met all four college readiness benchmarks across both initiatives combined, for example, only 6% of Latino students did so. 


Latino students were not only less likely to meet college readiness benchmarks, they were also less likely to report taking or planning to take core high school coursework (as indicated by the gray line in the charts below). Core coursework is defined by ACT as four or more years of English, and three or more years each of math, natural sciences, and social studies.

Prior research demonstrates that students who take core, or college preparatory coursework score higher on measures of college and career readiness. Indeed, students across both initiatives who took core or more coursework (as represented by the blue bars) achieved a higher overall composite score on the ACT compared to students who took less than core coursework (as represented by the orange bars). 


The Latino population is the fastest growing population in Arizona. While Latino students currently make up 45% of Arizona’s K-12 public school enrollment, they continue to trail their White peers in achievement, high school graduation, and college success. Helios Education Foundation’s Latino Student Success strategy strives to close the achievement gap and increase college and career preparedness among our state’s Latino students. Our brief learnings highlight the importance of examining student course enrollment to identify gaps based on demographics (e.g., race/ethnicity and free/reduced lunch status). Using this information, districts, schools, and the state can work to coordinate opportunities for more rigorous course-taking statewide for all students. Furthermore, all students, regardless of the demographic makeup of the district they attend, should have the opportunity to engage in ACT or SAT test preparation activities. 

The College Readiness Pilot was included in the larger K-12 budget bill (HB 2545), championed by Representative Heather Carter in a separate bill, and signed by Governor Ducey on May 12, 2017. Under this program, the Arizona Legislature authorized $250,000 in general fund and the Governor’s Office significantly augmented those funds so that students in both district and charter schools could take either the ACT or SAT in the Spring of 2018. This effort resulted in nearly 17,000 students taking one of the two tests.

Helios’ College Knowing & Going program enables students from 18 Arizona school districts to take the ACT at no cost to the student. The initiative also includes college readiness support like FAFSA and college application completion assistance. In 2017-2018, over 27,000 students took the ACT under this program.

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