In 2010, the Arizona Legislature established a performance-based diploma initiative known as Move On When Ready (MOWR). The policy relies on an education model designed to evaluate students' college and career readiness by measuring their academic ability to succeed in the first credit-bearing course in community college. Move On When Ready is a structurally oriented, qualification system that attempts to attain a relatively narrow goal: increase the number of students able to successfully perform at a college-level academic standard. By relying on a set of benchmarked assessments to measure success and failure, MOWR propagates a categorical binary. The binary establishes explicit performance criteria on a set of examinations students are required to meet in order to earn a high school qualification that, by design, certifies whether students are ready or not ready for college.
This study sought to reveal how students’ perceptions of the policy and schooling in general affect their understanding of the concept of college readiness and the college readiness binary and to identify factors that help formulate those perceptions. This interpretivist, qualitative study relied on analysis of multiple face-to-face interviews with students to better understand how they think and act within the context of Move On When Ready, paying particular attention to students from historically vulnerable minority subgroups (e.g., the Latina (a)/Hispanic sub-population) enrolled in two schools deploying the MOWR strategy.
Findings suggest that interviewed students understand little about MOWR's design, intent or implications for their future educational trajectories. Moreover, what they believe is generally misinformed, regardless of aspiration, socio-cultural background, or academic standing. School-based sources of messaging (e.g., teachers and administrators) supply the bulk of information to students about MOWR. However, in these two schools, the flow of information is constricted. In addition, the information conveyed is either distorted by message mediators or misinterpreted by the students. The data reveal that formal and informal mediators of policy messages influence students’ engagement with the policy and affect students’ capacity to play an active role in determining the policy’s effect on their educational outcomes.