Examining Opportunities for Students to Prepare for Success: Rigorous Coursework in Arizona

Examining Opportunities for Students to Prepare for Success

Helios Education Foundation (Helios) is dedicated to creating opportunities for individuals in Arizona and Florida to achieve a postsecondary education. Fundamental beliefs in Community, Equity, Investment, and Partnership drive our work, and we invest in initiatives across the full education continuum. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for college and career and go on to complete a high-quality postsecondary degree or certificate.

Ensuring students are prepared for success in college includes many factors but one critical factor is access to rigorous academic coursework. In collaboration with researchers from the Decision Center for Educational Excellence we partnered with five Arizona School Districts to understand high school course taking trends in Advanced Placement (AP), Dual Enrollment and International Baccalaureate (IB). From the onset, we wanted to understand who takes rigorous courses across these five districts and to disaggregate the data to examine course taking from an equitable lens. Second, we wanted to understand the impact of these courses on college-going and college persistence. Simply put, did they impact student college-going behaviors.

This initial brief is meant to provide greater context on who takes rigorous courses and the extent to which it impacts college-going. As the reader will see we ran into challenges that forced us to modify some of our analyses. One major challenge that emerged centered on how the districts captured dual enrollment on high school transcripts. Not all districts had processes in place to fully capture who was in dual enrollment courses. As a result, we can only share limited data on who took dual enrollment courses. A second challenge that emerged was the limited numbers of students taking IB courses. This is not surprising since IB is typically a whole school program and only a few schools in these five districts have made that choice. With smaller numbers of IB students we lacked the power to examine impact of IB on college-going or persistence as well. Therefore, our analyses on impact as it relates to college-going and persistence focus on AP course taking.

The goal of this brief is to inspire a call to action among Arizona’s stakeholders to improve educational opportunities for all students in the state so that we can ensure that every student, regardless of gender, zip code, race or ethnicity, receive a high quality education that will lead him or her to college if they so choose.

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