1 988189 Executive Summary
The Arizona At-Risk Pilot Project:
In Grades K-3 and 7-1 2
Pursuant to HB 2217 (1 988)
C. Diane Bishop
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Arizona Department of Education
1988189 Executive Summary
The Arizona At-Risk Pilot Project:
In Grades K-3 and 7-12
Pursuant to HE3 2217 (1 988)
Project DirectorlPrincipal Author
Dr. Louann Bierlein
Dr. Rob Melnick
The Morrison Institute for Public Policy
School of Public Affairs
Arizona State University
Dr. Rob Melnick, Director
H.B. 2217 (1988) initiated a four year pilot education project of a magnitude never
before undertaken in Arizona's history. The bill not only appropriated additional state funding
to address the problems of Arizona youth who are "at risk" of failing in, or dropping out of, the
state's public schools, but also required a comprehensive evaluation of this statewide pilot
This executive summary introduces the first of three annual reports which will illustrate
the results of H.B. 2217 (1988). The goals of these evaluation reports are to provide school
districts with regular, consistent feedback which they can use to make program changes, and
to analyze issues that could potentially affect policy decisions regarding the continuance or
expansion of the pilot programs and future programs for at-risk youth. This first report primarily
describes the status of existing programs rather than an assessment of their impact on at-risk
A significant change in Arizona educational policy has occurred in recent years as a
result of limited fiscal resources and a heightened concern over accountability. In 1985, the
legislature authorized the annual distribution of over $15 million to districts based upon their
K-3 population. No specific restrictions were placed on these funds and little information on
their usage is required. Yet two years later, when an additional $4.5 million was made available
for at-risk programs via H.B. 2217 (1988), the resulting expectations of the legislature and the
statutory requirements are great.
The dollars provided through H.B. 2217 (1988) enabled the Arizona Department of
Education to fund 33 pilot programs throughout the state. Twenty-two programs provide
additional assistance to at-risk children enrolled in kindergarten through third grade (K-3), and
eleven programs focus on at-risk youth in grades seven through twelve (7-12).
H.B. 221 7 (1 988) requires that an evaluation of the pilot project be completed to "assess
the progress of the pupils in the program." It further states that this assessment must include
"a longitudinal four year study of the impact of at-risk pupils in these programs." To satisfy this
requirement, the Department of Education selected the Morrison Institute for Public Policy
(School of Public Affairs, Arizona State University) in June, 1989 as the external eval~ratofro r
the pilot project.
By funding pilot programs and by requiring a four year longitudinal study of their impact
on at-risk students, H.B. 2217 (1988) established a process that will provide valuable
information to both policy makers and educators. As the project progresses, data will become
available for utilization by policy makers in decisions concerning Arizona's growing population
of at-risk youth and by educators when providing additional assistance for not only at-risk
pupils, but all students.
THE PILOT PROGRAMS
Dependent upon previously available funding and the local governing board's
commitment to providing additional assistance for at-risk students, major variations exist in the
"starting" point of each pilot program. Previous to H.B. 2217 (1 988), a few districts had already
prepared comprehensive district-wide plans to assist their at-risk pupils. These districts are now
using their at-risk funds to develop one or more components of a larger program. On the
other hand, many pilot districts have now initiated their first major effort to assist children at
H.B. 221 7 (1 988) requires the K-3 at-risk programs to focus on academic assistance and
parental involvement. Twenty-two districts were selected to initiate such programs and have
generally targeted students who are in danger of being retained, who have low test scores, and
who have limlted English proficiency. Although each program is uniquely designed to meet the
needs of district students, there are also similarities among the programs. The components
listed in the following table do not represent any one particular program, but reflect those
found throughout the entire K-3 at-risk pilot project.
At the secondary level (7-12), eleven pilot programs have focused on dropout retrieval,
dropout prevention, or both. The majority involve a select group of students with extremely
pronounced at-risk symptoms. A few districts have identified their entire student population as
at risk and plan to provide services to all students. In some cases, students who have dropped
out of school are "tracked down" for inclusion in an alternative school or alternative program.
In general, the 7-12 districts have targeted students who are confronted with a variety of
academic, social, and emotional problems.
H.B. 221 7 (1 988) required each 7-1 2 pilot program to contain academic, vocational, and
support activities. In addition, the State Board of Education is requiring these programs to
include parental communication and coordination with community resources. As with the K-
3 programs, the particular components of each 7-12 program depend on the needs of the
targeted students and on the services that were in place prior to receipt of H.B. 2217 (1 988)
funding. General components of the 7-12 programs are listed below.
The evaluation effort conducted by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy will include
the collection of both qualitative and quantitative data sets, through interviews, observations,
standardized tests, case studies, and surveys. Parents, teachers, administrators, and students
will be included in the assessment. By focusing on four levels of crutcomes (individual students,
program, district, and state), the evaluation will provide a comprehensive look at the impact on
at-risk pupils in these programs.
A cohort of participating at-risk students will be tracked for three years, beginning FY
1989190. Wherever possible, baseline data on these students will be retrieved for 1988189, the
first year of the project. Student profiles depicting academic indicators, absentee rates, grade
level promotion, credits earned, continuous school enrollment, attitudes toward school, and
parental involvement will be compiled.
The data collected will be used to produce three types of reports: 1) individual district
evaluation reports to assist program directors and the Department of Education in making
program adjustments; 2) an annual summary report to the legislature; and 3) a final longitudinal
study identifying the most significant strategies and outcomes of H.B. 2217 (1988). The final
report will also analyze the social and educational policy issues that are relevant to Arizona's
YEAR ONE OBSERVATIONS
During the first "year" of the at-risk program (January 1989 to August 1989), the 33 pilot
sites reported that approximately 28% (24,229) of their total students enrolled in grades K-3 and
7-12 (85,564) were considered to be at risk. Districts stated that additional assistance was
provided to approximately 54% (1 3,126) of these targeted students.
Although limited standardized "impact" data was collected during year one, on-site
evaluation visitations and document analysis allowed the evaluators to identify several program
strategies that may potentially impact at-risk youth. Activities attempting to ensure literacy for
all students are being initiated. Dropouts are being retrieved back into the educational system
through alternative programs. Parents who had little previous contact with schools are being
trained in methods to help their children succeed in school. These strategies and others are
highlighted in the following table and will be carefully examined over the next three years.
While some positive changes occurred during the first year of the project, some areas
that could adversely impact a program's success were also identified. Preliminary concerns
are highlighted below.
There is little debate about the importance of addressing the needs of Arizona's at-risk
students in a more comprehensive manner. Recent Arizona reports illustrate that the state's
economy can no longer absorb the nearly 30% of its youth who do not obtain a high school
diploma. Instead, the debate now centers on what strategies should be employed by state and
local policy makers to mitigate this rapidly growing crisis, and on how these strategies should
Early prevention is being advocated by many as essential to saving the next generation
of potential dropouts, while other people demand that the current generation not be forgotten.
This policy dilemma is further complicated by cries to stop "throwing money at the problem"
and begin to demonstrate tangible student outcomes. Compounding the issue are the lack of
standardized educational performance measures, the limited information on ''what works" for
at-risk students, and a state fiscal deficit that does not allow every need to be covered
H.B. 2217 (1988) represents a significant attempt to address the economic, social, and
educational issues associated with the state's at-risk youth. It is also a statement regarding the
need for education program evaluation and increased accountability. The at-risk pilot programs
will be scrutinized at a level never before experienced in Arizona and will undoubtedly yield
very important data for Arizona's policy makers and educators. Given the current fiscal
constraints and the need for better measures of student performance, it is already apparent
that the implementation of the H.B. 2217 (1988) at-risk pilot project represents a wise policy
decision for Arizona.
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