Explore Program

2014-15 Arizona EXPLORE Program is an effort that began in 2010 as a partnership between the Governor's Office of Education Innovation and Northern Arizona University (NAU).  Through the EXPLORE Program, eighth grade students take ACT's EXPLORE assessment, an early indicator of college readiness, and 'explore' the world of opportunities open to them in high school and beyond.

During 2013-14, nearly half of all Arizona eighth graders not only took the EXPLORE, but participated in meaningful activities with their families to understand and use their EXPLORE results to prepare a pre-high school Education and Career Action Plan (ECAP).  Additionally, participating school administrators and staff received professional development on use of the EXPLORE data to modify curricula and teaching strategies to improve student achievement and school performance. 

The State GEAR UP grant awarded to NAU last year makes the EXPLORE Program in Arizona possible for the next several years.  With the new grant, EXPLORE assessment results are used to benefit students and families, as well as to assist schools in preparing more eighth graders to begin their high school careers academically on-track, ready to succeed in college or career upon graduation. 

2014-15 EXPLORE Webinar Refresher

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the EXPLORE?

EXPLORE is ACT's curriculum-based educational and career planning program for eighth and ninth graders that measures achievement in English, math, reading, and science. Like the ACT, it includes both "cognitive" (academic) and "non-cognitive" questions. It offers an early indicator of college readiness, is designed to help students "explore" the world of possibilities open to them, help them plan for high school, and guide them as they start thinking about post high school educational and career opportunities. More details can be found on ACT/Explore.

What is the AZ EXPLORE Program and how does participation in the Initiative benefit my district and students?


Arizona GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is in its fifth year of enabling eighth grade students throughout Arizona to take the ACT EXPLORE assessment. In 2013-14, 294 schools representing 40,677 eighth graders participated.

Each academic year, Arizona GEAR UP partners with ACT and school districts to successfully administer the EXPLORE assessment, and subsequently support these students and their families in interpreting and using EXPLORE results to prepare students' high school Education and Career Action Plans (ECAPs).

The long-term aim of the EXPLORE Program is to significantly and sustainably increase the percentage of Arizona's low-income eighth graders who enter high school on track to be college and career ready.The shorter-term goal is to enhance the capacity of participating middle schools to prepare students to meet college and career readiness standards through three major annual activities:

  1. Administration of the ACT EXPLORE assessment to eighth graders,
  2. Presentation of workshops to train school-designated staff to interpret the cognitive and non-cognitive EXPLORE results with students and their parents and to prepare each student's pre-high school ECAP, and 
  3. Presentation of professional development sessions for middle-grade teachers and administrators to facilitate their use of the EXPLORE data to modify curriculum and teaching strategies in order to improve student achievement and school performance.

As a high school intake measure, EXPLORE gives educators the means to structure high school planning and career exploration for students and parents, and it serves as a baseline to monitor academic progress. In addition, as a participant in the Arizona EXPLORE Programs, district and school staff receive valuable training on how to use their district's EXPLORE data to make knowledge-based decisions and improvements using data at the district, school, and student levels.

How is participation in the EXPLORE Middle Grade Initiative made possible?

Arizona GEAR UP pays 100% of the per-student assessed costs to ACT directly, allowing eligible eighth grade students to take the EXPLORE assessment. Eligible students in 2014-15 are those eighth graders who are enrolled in a school in which fifty per cent (50%) or more of its students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRL) under the National School Lunch Program. (Arizona GEAR UP also allows Districts/Charter Holders, at their choosing, to include their "non-eligible students" in the 2014-15 EXPLORE Program, albeit at the expense of the District/Charter. See Commitment/Order Form for details). The Arizona GEAR UP grant will provide the EXPLORE Program continued large-scale participation annually through 2018.

What is required of my District to participate?

Participation for the 2014-15 school year requires return of the completed and signed Commitment/Order Form on or before August 1, 2014. Participating Districts/Charters must appoint a "District Liaison" to work closely with participating school principals and staff to ensure successful implementation of the Arizona EXPLORE Program in partnership with Arizona GEAR UP. Additionally, each Principal must identify a "College and Career Coach" to arrange for administration of the EXPLORE assessment at the school, and to support students and parents in the successful transition to high school. Finally, each school must complete a final School Report. Both the District Liaison and School Coach are provided training and support for their duties, which include participation in an ACT-hosted webinar on administration. Unfortunately, Arizona GEAR UP cannot reimburse Districts/Charters for the "staff time costs" associated with the EXPLORE Initiative, nor for the travel costs to attend the regional training workshop.

I have additional questions- who can I contact for more information?

Ann Connelly 142x120
Arizona GEAR UP EXPLORE Manager, Ann Connelly: 602.728.9526- Ann.Connelly@nau.edu.