Arizona Ready-for-Rigor Project

Principal investigator

Virginia McElyea

Award start date


Award end date


Originating sponsor

U.S. Department of Education

The challenge

How can we improve teacher effectiveness and attitudes to increase student achievement in Arizona’s high-needs K-12 public schools?

Arizona ranks near the bottom nationally in student achievement and teacher satisfaction. In the 2007 Arizona Teacher Working Conditions Survey, Arizona teachers reported feeling frustrated with a lack of professional development, absence of a mentoring system, low pay and few opportunities for professional growth.

Realizing that teachers are the most important in-school influence on students, ASU cultivated a community of educational professionals from 58 schools in 10 K-12 Arizona public school districts to improve the culture of educators through the Arizona Ready-for-Rigor (AZRfR) Project, a federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant.

The approach

The AZRfR Project was developed and implemented by Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, the National Institute of Excellence in Teaching (NIET), Arizona Department of Education and participating public schools and districts that involved 100 K-12 administrators and 2,100 teachers, and impacted 40,000 public school students annually across the state.

Educators were provided mentors and group support, individualized professional development and data-based strategies based on observations and targeted to the specific needs of the schools and individual teachers. Additionally, $20 million in performance-based compensation was distributed to the teachers, principals and assistant principals based on multiple evaluations, and student and school-wide growth, while allowing educators to increase their responsibilities and duties.

Findings and impact

The AZRfR Project staff found that the longer schools and districts implemented AZRfR, and provided the necessary support and elements, teachers’ confidence increased and students performed better in the classroom.

Highlights of achievements from 2011-12 to 2014-15 include:

  • Administrator effectiveness scores increased from 31% to 67%
  • Teacher effectiveness scores increased from 62% to 74%
  • Wave 1 schools improved A-F Letter Grades from zero schools earning an “A” in 2010-11 to three (out of nine) achieving the highest grade level in 2013-14 (last year state released letter grades)
  • Educator favorability on school cultures elements increased from 46% to 78%
  • Highly effective teacher retention in remote areas increased from 77% to 92%

Over the course of the grant, the school culture in participating public schools became more collaborative within the schools and districts.