Arizona Department of Education

AIMS Intervention and Dropout Prevention Program TOOLKIT

Exemplary Program

Mesa Unified School District, OnTrack Program (2007 Profile)

Contact information

Elizabeth Ayers-Cluff

Mesa Unified School District #4

Community Education Department

546 N. Stapley Drive

Mesa, AZ 85203

eacluff@aol.com 602-625-8124

Description

Mesa USD #4 (MPS) is the largest school district in the State of Arizona, with over 73,000 students. Mesa, a fast-growing suburb of Phoenix, has developed a number of programs to serve students who need academic tutoring or remediation, credit recovery, correspondence courses, or credit acceleration.

The OnTrack program was initiated in 2002 by a MPS district administrator who recognized the need to coordinate existing services to reach students who were not taking advantage of these services (evening school, credit recovery, summer school). The design of the program was adjusted to meet the requirements of the AIMS Implementation grant and now includes work readiness and community service requirements.

OnTrack operates in six high schools and four junior high/middle schools. Services include correspondence courses, online learning, summer school classes, and classes at Sundown Evening School. These same services are available to any student in the district, at a cost of $150 per one-half credit. The AIMS Implementation grant provides free tuition for qualified students.

OnTrack is a supplemental program-students continue to attend regular classes during the day. The program strategy is to keep students in their high schools and not send them to alternative schools. Approximately five students a year sign up for OnTrack and three hundred and fifty are in the program at any one time.

OnTrack services are provided mainly through computer-based tutorial systems overseen by instructors. Some OnTrack instructors also work with high-needs students in regular classes.

The program integrates with the regular school curriculum. Some students have tutors in high-need content areas such as math and reading. Others use computer-based instructional programs to recover or accelerate credits. Two of the high schools have full-time teachers in the computer laboratory so students can take extra classes or make up credits in a self-paced environment.

All students receive follow-up services. They are offered scholarships for summer school if they need additional credits.

The focus at the junior high school is to help students pass AIMS. The ninth graders are helped to get back on track so that they will have the right number of credits to move to high school. High school programs focus on helping students earn enough credit to keep them at grade level, earn diplomas, identify goals, and look forward to what they plan after graduation.

At some schools, the OnTrack teacher works collaboratively and co-teaches with the regular content teachers. Other OnTrack staff act as tutors for a subset of students who need extra help in regular classes. At other sites, OnTrack staff serves students in the library or computer laboratory, where students can come at lunch, after school, or during study hours. One teacher at each site oversees all students, including those in SunDown.

The number of different programs coordinated by OnTrack funding ensures that students can meet their needs in a number of ways-independent learning with computers, in-class tutoring, summer school classes, and evening programs. (See the section on "Technology" for more details about the computer-based software programs.)


Program design


Goals


The overarching goal of the OnTrack program is to help students who are behind in credits, have not passed AIMS, or who have a grade point average of 2.0 or below.

Another goal is to enable more low-income students to access alternative services in the district without cost. The ADE AIMS Implementation and Dropout Prevention funding covers student costs of $150.00 per half credit, thus enabling more students, especially those with few resources, to stay in school and earn their diploma.


Philosophy

Some students in middle and high school need more support and guidance in order to successfully complete academic requirements and keep up with their cohort. While many programs exist in the district, the director of OnTrack realized the need to coordinate these services and provide individualized, continuous support to at-risk students. Students are identified as soon as they begin to have difficulty in any academic course. They are then given the support and resources to create a vision of themselves as successful and are encouraged to take responsibility for developing problem-solving skills, persistence, and responsibility for their learning and life path.

Criteria for success


Success is measured by how many students in the program earn credits towards graduation, pass AIMS, improve their GPA, and complete the community service and vocational activities.

Distribution of activities

80% Improvement in academic achievement

10% AIMS test-taking skills or practice testing

 5% Workplace skills preparation

 5% Instruction on leadership and civic duty (e.g., community service).

What contributes most to student success?

Quality of the staff

According to the program director, a great staff makes the most difference for OnTrack students. "First of all, our success is due to the attitude of our instructors. They find joy in helping students achieve academic success. The approval MPS has given for OnTrack to operate, the welcome that we receive by the administrators, teachers, and counselors at schools where we offer OnTrack, the staff's common vision, their commitment to help students, and the joy of teaching they exhibit, all contribute to our students' success."

Students

Background

The OnTrack program serves students in MPS who qualify for the program based on an extensive list of "at-risk" criteria including academic and personal challenges. Students in middle school are required to participate; high school students voluntarily join the program. Most students are one to two semesters behind in coursework, and most graduate within one year of their cohort. Students who have dropped out are not eligible for OnTrack but can complete their GED through the district's Community Education department.

Recruitment

The OnTrack coordinator collaborates with the counselors and principals at the schools to identify students for the program. Counselors at the high school and principals at the junior high schools identify the students that are behind in credits, have not passed AIMS, or have low grade point averages. At the junior high, the principals direct the OnTrack staff to the department heads, and then teachers mentor and tutor the students that are identified for the OnTrack program.

School counselors are learning the benefits of the program for their students. As the director says "OnTrack has been offered for the past five years and counselors count on it to help their students earn credits and graduate. They view it as a valuable tool that has made a difference for their students. At Mesa High, they have a counselor that they now designate as the OnTrack counselor. They identify the students and work with the OnTrack coordinator to make sure each student understands the requirements for participating in the OnTrack program."

Participation is mandatory at the junior high school level. It is voluntary at high schools.

Setting goals

Each student completes a Personal Education Plan. This plan documents the credits that they have earned and the required credits that they need to graduate. Also, students write their educational goals, their personal goals, and their career goals. Each time students earn credits these are documented on their personal records at their schools. Also, students attend workshops in the Career Center to help them envision what they need for certain career paths.

Student work with staff to design Personal Learning Plans and to keep track of the credits they need for graduation. Each student's progress is documented and shared with that student. The counselors at the school and the OnTrack staff evaluate what each student needs and then customizes the programs to meet those needs and to help them get back on track with the educational goals.

Taking responsibility for learning


Students sign in and out to document their attendance. Each student has a file that contains the coursework that they are currently completing. Students are encouraged to meet with their counselors and make sure that their records are updated.

Motivation and incentives

Students in high school, who complete their coursework, document service-learning hours, visit the Career Center, and attend Arizona Workplace Skills workshops may receive a scholarship worth $150.00 for a summer school course or credit towards a community college course.

Students who do not have regular attendance are contacted by the OnTrack coordinator and counselors to encourage them to complete their work. Junior high students who show progress on their work receive an incentive. i.e. movie pass. At the end of the year, if there is money left, the program purchases gift cards and rewards students who have shown the most progress or earned the most credits in the different programs.

The ALEKS (mathematics tutoring) coordinator tells all prospective students that the average high school graduate makes $200,000 more in their lifetime than a dropout. If a student does the ALEKS program and graduates, that translates into about $100 per problem in the program. This helps make the goal and progress concrete for students.

All staff emphasizes the importance of building personal relationships and encouraging students to complete the program. Students benefit from hearing success stories of others who were able to graduate because of the help that they received from OnTrack. There is a special bond that develops with these students as the OnTrack teacher celebrates with each educational success.


Perspectives

R- is in grade 10 and has been working with the A+ program to make up credits from her pre-algebra course. She takes a geometry class during the day and comes after school to make up these credits so she can stay with her class and become a junior. She just met with her OnTrack counselor and said, "She's cool. She tells me to keep trying because it'll pay off in the end; I'll have a better life. It takes me a lot of practice, but you learn more, are more prepared."

Institutional support

Planning and decision making

The program director, coordinator, administrators, teachers/staff, counselors, and regular classroom teachers all participate in program decision-making. Planning meetings are held twice a year. The program director describes the decision-making process,"At the beginning of the year, we meet to refresh our vision for OnTrack. Then we meet again at the end of the year. During the course of the year we email, make phone calls, and the OnTrack coordinator and I meet to check on how the program is working. Our district has many programs in place, and we use OnTrack to build on the areas that need support.

During the school year, the coordinator, a 50% position, shoulders most of the administrative and coordination work for the program. She keeps in touch with staff primarily through email and phone calls. Each OnTrack staff member acts as a liaison to teachers at the school sites to coordinate services with the regular classes. Each year the OnTrack Director calls every school principal to ask, "How may we help you?" The program hopes that as news of its success gets out, they will get more response from the remaining schools. "

Staff and staff effectiveness

The OnTrack staff is certificated. For Sundown, the instructors often teach during the daytime at that school and the principal recommends them for the program.

The program works within the district to recruit teachers who are retired or on the Mesa Unified Schools' substitute list and have areas of certification that meet program needs. The program presents the names of the teachers to the principals at each site who make the final selection.

The program director said, "It seems like all the stars aligned to create the OnTrack staff. Every staff member holds the vision of OnTrack's mission and finds joy in helping students get back on track for graduation. It is rewarding. (In the six years that we have been awarded this grant, all but one of the original staff is still with OnTrack. The teacher that left accepted a full-time job.) The OnTrack coordinator had years of experience in areas that were vital to the success of the program. Her expertise and attention to details and her ability to create curriculum and present workshops and collect data from research and evaluation are priceless."

Professional development


The program director says, "Keeping the vision of helping students get back on track academically is essential for our staff to keep in the forefront of their minds. Site visits and attending workshops on best practices to support student success is helpful. Training in Passkey Learning (www.passkeylearning.com) and ALEKS (www.aleks.com) to meet the needs of a diverse group of learners is effective in helping students learn at the level that they are ready to learn."

Program evaluation

Each year, the staff analyzes what students were served and visits with the principals at the sites to see if they want the program to return. Research and Evaluation Department data provides each student's AIMS scores, credits earned, grade point average, and personal data. Staff evaluates the program. The OnTrack program coordinator contacts the counselors at the schools to see what worked and what needs to be revised.

The program director points out that, "Support from the principal and the teachers at each site are critical to OnTrack's success. When we evaluate a site and do not see the support or commitment that we know is essential for students' success, we select another site. Our aim is to use the funds we receive for the maximum student benefit."

Program environment

Attendance

Students who do not attend the program for several days are notified that if they do not return by a certain date that they will have to restart the course. If student are taking correspondence courses, they have one year to finish. They cannot wait until near the end of the year to complete the course because they would have so many tests to take that it would be difficult for them to pass.

In addition, the counselor and the OnTrack coordinator contact parents by phone, email and letter to let them know if students are attending. This often improves a student's attendance. This is especially true if the student is a senior and needs the course to graduate! Guidance counselors at each site monitor attendance and keep students motivated to continue attending.

Safety and discipline

The program operates within each of the high schools and follows the site safety and discipline policies. Most students in the program have chosen to be involved and are motivated to complete their course work, so behavior is rarely an issue. Students who fail to keep up with their work know that they risk being removed from the program or having to pay for their credits.

Support and caring

The ratio of staff to students, and the intensive one-on-one time that students can receive from instructors, provides needed structure and support. Students know that everyone in the program is there to help them be successful in both school and life.

Student-teacher relationships

As with other successful programs, teachers' relationships with at-risk students are key. OnTrack works with the district to identify and support students in junior high school as soon as they show signs that they are struggling. In high school, the students stay with one counselor, who tracks their progress. In addition, the OnTrack teachers try to stay in contact with their students across courses and years to develop ongoing relationships.

The intent is to follow all students, though this is not always possible. The student population OnTrack serves has a higher rate of transience, and students may move to a school where there is no OnTrack support. Most students come in with a one-year goal to meet, often in their senior year.

Parent and family involvement

When counselors identify a student, they send a letter to parents that says, "Your student is in need-let us show how we can help." At the high schools, letters are sent to parents to inform them of the intent of OnTrack and to let them know that their student has been asked to participate. Counselors are in direct contact with the parents. The OnTrack program coordinator works with the counselors or sometimes contacts parents directly.

Partnerships and linkages

Career Centers at the high schools and Mesa Youth Placement are part of MPS. These district units provide linkages and partnerships with business, community and post-secondary institutions.

Teachers across MPS decide whether to bring the Passkey Learning or ALEKS computer tutorial options into their classes for students who need extra help. Each OnTrack instructor acts as a liaison to teachers at their site and assists with coordinating the use of the OnTrack program in individual classrooms.

Prevention and social services

The OnTrack program does not directly offer these services but works with guidance counselors and departments at the district level to get students the help they need to stay in school.

Academics

AIMS Intervention

Much of the ongoing support OnTrack provides is to students who need remedial or extra academic support. The focus is on developing students' basic skills in literacy and mathematics. Assessments in the technology-supported programs simulate an AIMS environment-one with no extra support for reading or interpretation of questions. The Passkey Learning curriculum builds in practice for standardized tests and even refers directly to the Arizona AIMS standards.

Curriculum

The curriculum offered is geared towards the needs of each individual student. Students with low reading levels are directed towards Sundown and Passkey Learning. Students with average reading levels are directed towards correspondence courses and in some cases online learning. Some students work better with teacher-directed classes, so a variety of curriculum are offered and presented in different formats to meet the needs of each student. The ALEKS computer-based curriculum in mathematics replaces regular mathematics class time for one hour per week, only if the teacher agrees to participate.

OnTrack supplements the traditional school's academic activities. Where there is a gap in the students' academic progress, OnTrack fills that gap. Students receive six free classes a day during the traditional school day. However, if they fail a class or dropout of school and then return, it is difficult for them to "catch up". They may need extra credits to be on track to graduate. Students take online courses, correspondence courses, courses in workplace skills, prepared resume, participate in community service, and collaborate with the Riparian Preserve where they have opportunities for job shadowing, tutoring, and career counseling.

Instructional strategies

Students work at their own pace to complete their courses. Correspondence courses are offered in social studies, language arts, physical education, and Personal Development. Students meet with certified instructors for help and to take tests. Certified tutors work with students during the regular class to help them understand concepts and to practice using them.

Students have several options for credit recovery through OnTrack, mainly through individualized, computer-based curriculum programs such as Advanced Learning and ALEKS. Summer school and Sundown Evening School are two other options for students who need to recover credits or want to accelerate. Credit recovery operates on an open entry/open exit policy. Students must sign a contract with OnTrack to receive ADE funding for course tuition. The contract includes requirements to participate in workplace skills and leadership/community development activities in addition to credit recovery.

Assessment strategies

The computer-based tutorial programs have built-in formative and summative assessments. Students can take a pretest to identify their needs and use reviews to check understanding before they take the official "graded" assessment. These assessments are all multiple choice. Each program generates an individualized progress report for each student that the instructor can access at any time. In ALEKS, the instructor can see at a glance what topics the student has attempted and mastered what the student is ready to learn next, and a learning log that tracks topics for each session. Students using the A+ instructional system earn 40% of their grade through practice tests and by completing work, and then they must pass the mastery test to earn credit. Students choose when they are ready to take the mastery test. If they fail this, they do not have a second chance but must repeat the course.

The regular classroom teacher is given a report of each student's progress in Passkey Learning or ALEKS, and then combines this with the students' assessment in the regular class to assign a grade. In classes with a tutor, the tutor gives input to the classroom teacher for grading.

Staff reports that students appreciate the instant feedback that they receive from the computer-based instruction.

Students in credit recovery using computer-based instruction can only earn a B. They must earn 70% or above on each exam to stay in the program.

Resources

Most of the instructional delivery for the program is computer-based. The school district provides regular academic resources and supplemental materials, including math handbooks, English workbooks, and an AIMS Preparation Library.

Technology

Several computer-based, tutorial systems form the basis of program delivery in the OnTrack program.

Passkey Learning (Glencoe/McGraw-Hill) is a modular diagnostic and instructional program for self-paced learning in mathematics, reading, writing, science and social studies. An OnTrack teacher coordinates the use of Passkey in regular classes for remediation and extra support in the content areas. ALEKS and Passkey are 24/7 courses. One of the many features is the number of examples that are given to help students understand the concepts. Students who use Passkey remain in their content area class for the first period, and work with the special education or OnTrack tutor and Passkey during a second hour. Passkey includes embedded diagnostic and summative assessment.

ALEKS (www.aleks.com) is a web-based assessment and learning system developed by the National Science Foundation and the California Board of Regents. ALEKS uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what mathematics content a student knows and doesn't know. ALEKS then instructs the student on the topics he/she is most ready to learn. Lessons range from basic math to Algebra concepts.

Students working with ALEKS spend one of six classroom hours a week with the program (which the coordinator says is not enough). ALEKS students are up to five years behind their grade level in skill. ALEKS is supported by one OnTrack staff member, a retired engineer who is now a long-term substitute teacher. He reports that students develop motivation and self-esteem by learning to work with the computer, and the one-on-one time encourages them to not only pass but also to do quality work. Teachers decide whether to integrate their class with the ALEKS system-about 15 teachers currently participate.

Students in credit recovery or credit acceleration use the AnyWhere Learning System® (A+LS™) computer-based instructional software. Curriculum in A+ is aligned to the Arizona State Standards. On-line tutorials customize learning to meet each student's individual needs. These tutorials identify areas in which the student struggles or reviews and refreshes their concepts and coursework. The students are pre-tested and then receive guided practice and reevaluation to see what they have learned. These tutorials are aligned with Arizona State Standards and directed towards AIMS preparation. The A+ program is implemented in a computer lab setting that is supervised by a regular classroom teacher. The teacher works intensively one-on-one with students to reinforce note- taking strategies and good study skills, as well as to help students navigate through the curriculum or provide technical support.

One drawback to the computer tutorials, staff note, is the advanced reading level. ELL students or low-level readers need support from other students and the teacher to translate the information.

Students can also participate through the MPS online option or regular correspondence courses.

In general, the school support for computer-based learning is high. Several schools have arranged for additional computers or laboratory space to accommodate the program.

Vocational, leadership, workplace, and life skills

Community service and service learning


Students who are in the OnTrack program are required to complete and document service-learning projects and attend workshops on Arizona Workplace Skills. Also, they are required to visit the Career Center and explore career paths and other post-secondary opportunities.

As the director describes, "At each school site, service learning experiences are available for our students. Students are informed of community service experiences that are available, and they select the ones in which they are interested. We require the students to document their hours and write a narrative reflecting on the service experience. OnTrack collaborates with the Riparian Preserve in Gilbert for job shadowing and community service learning."

Mentoring

OnTrack offers no direct mentoring services but works in collaboration with the junior high and high school counselors. At the high school, students are identified and work with civic organizations like Boeing, the Rotary Club and Lion's Club, and Junior Achievement. Teachers also server as mentors at each site. Our OnTrack coordinator meets with the students and provides mentoring services. At the junior high schools, the tutors serve as mentors to the students.

Vocation/Career

The district of Mesa provides the Mesa Youth Placement Service, an employment and training program available to all students. The center provides job readiness workshops, job placement, a youth job fair, and individual counseling services, and coordinates with local businesses and libraries to connect students and employers.

Each student who uses OnTrack services makes a commitment to participate in workplace and career activities while they are in the OnTrack program. The On-Track coordinator works with the Career Centers at the high schools and makes presentations to the students regarding Arizona Workplace Skills. As part of the On-Track contract, every student must participate in career services activities, write a resume and letters of application to schools and/or jobs, and perform community service.

The Director reports: "Utilizing the information and resources in the Career Centers and working on their resumes and having practice in letter writing and job applications would be the activities that contribute most to student success in this area."

The Coordinator hands out all the information on the district career center to students when they sign up for the program and follows up with both students and the district career specialists. The center sends information to students every month, but it is difficult to get students to show up for workshops and events.

Transitional services

Placement in higher education

The Mesa district Career Center works with students to make connections with colleges and universities and to plan for continuing education after high school. One program incentive for students is to attend summer school or community college class for free if they complete all program requirements during the year.

Placement in jobs

The MPS Research and Evaluation Department provides OnTrack with a list of students who graduated or did not graduate. Follow up by email, phone, and letter is conducted three times over the next year. Email or phone call seems the best methods to get the information on the career path the students have selected.

The program Coordinator follows up with students quarterly on their job placement progress, asking basic questions by phone and letter. The district also has a job placement center that helps keep track of graduates.

Site visit information

 

Claire Brown and Elisabeth Roberts visited the Mesa USD OnTrack program in April 2007.

Staff interviewed

Emily Slusher, Program Director

Elizabeth Ayers-Cluff, Program Coordinator

Leslie Miller, Instructor, language arts

Win Pendelton, Instructor, ALEKS program

David Angus, Mathematics Tutor

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