February 26, 2019

Early College Credit Bonus Program – More Access to Advanced Coursework

Arizona is making great strides to close the achievement gap between low income and minority students and their more advantaged peers. One tool in the toolbox to do that is Arizona’s important, yet often underreported, college credit by exam incentive program, which increases student access to advanced coursework.

Originally approved by the legislature in 2016, the program provides a bonus to schools for each student who earns a passing score on a qualified early college credit exam. The most well-known programs are Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB), but there are a number of approved exams. Importantly, the bonuses go directly to teachers who are preparing Arizona students to not only graduate but advance to high learning after high school.

Students who take advanced coursework maintain a higher grade point average, score better on the SAT, and go on to attend and complete college and enter higher paying career fields, according to a joint policy brief from the Arizona Chamber Foundation and the Foundation for Excellence. The organizations highlighted a study which found that 56 percent of students who passed an AP exam or similar assessment completed a degree within seven years, as compared with only 22 percent who had not. The program also substantially increased the number of Latino and African American students earning early credit.

The benefits of access to early college coursework are especially significant for minority students. The same report highlighted the International Baccalaureate program, which has demonstrated a profound impact on the educational outcomes of minorities and low-income students. Nationwide, 60 percent of all public schools offering IB programs are designated as Title 1 schools, meaning a high percentage of their students come from low-income families. Of those students who took an IB qualifying exam, 40 percent were minorities and one-third were low-income. Of these low-income students, a remarkable 79 percent enrolled in higher education upon high school graduation, as compared to only 46 percent of their peers in non-IB schools.

In Arizona, 80 percent of Arizona’s high school students who go to college come from only 50 percent of our high schools. That means half of our schools send only small numbers of students to college, while some do not send any. Research shows that early college credit classes increase the number of students who choose to go on to college or technical pursuits.

Now, more than ever, Arizona is focused on investing in excellence and the specific programs that advance it. The college credit bonus program exemplifies that perfectly, and also provide the public financial transparency on how the funding is distributed. Bonuses are given to individual school sites that earned the money, allowing the public to see the dollars flowing directly to the schools and teachers who are advancing greater student opportunities.  

Principals and teachers are responding favorably to the program, who see it as valuable in recruiting high quality teachers to teach advanced coursework, which is a huge factor in the success of students who take the exams to earn credit.

“Our teachers deserve recognition for ensuring that students of all socioeconomic backgrounds are college ready, and the Early College Credit Bonuses reward our teachers for providing our students the best way possible to be successful in college and beat the poverty cycle,” said Amy Cislak, University High School principal, a nationally recognized, highly ranked, college preparatory high school that offers an advanced and rigorous academic curriculum in a highly supportive environment in the Tucson Unified School District.

The program has been so well received that lawmakers are looking to strengthen it this year by making several updates to the underlying law. The bill, HB 2176, includes putting deadlines around when schools must distribute teacher bonuses and broadening the scope of teachers and special staff eligible for them, as well as allotting funds to reimburse eligible students for exam registration fees.

This program incentivizes high schools to expand and develop programs that allow students to be successful after graduation, whether that be attending college or earning post high school industry certifications. These are tremendously meaningful outcomes resulting from a targeted investment in what drives excellence.

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