Programs that Work
Accelerated Academics Academy (AAA)
Children Succeeding in School
Students graduating from high school
Age of Child
Middle Childhood (9-12)
Type of Setting
Type of Service
Type of Outcome Addressed
Cognitive Development / School Performance
Evidence Level (What does this mean?)
The Accelerated Academics Academy (AAA) was an alternative middle school established in the Flint Community Schools school district in Flint, Michigan. Funded and evaluated as part of the federally funded School Dropout Demonstration Assistance Program (SDDAP), it began its operations in 1991 and continued to provide services as of 2008.
The primary goal of AAA was to accelerate instruction so that students who are behind one or more grade levels could enter high school with their same-age peers. AAA emphasized small class sizes and a curriculum designed by its staff that compressed two years of middle school learning into one year. AAA teachers placed great emphasis on integrating the curriculum across core academic subjects. In addition to regular teaching activities, the program also included such services as counseling, attendance monitoring, and outreach to families.
AAA served students in grades six through eight who were two or more grade levels behind peers in their age group in Flint, Michigan. Sixty-one percent of the students were African-American, 53 percent came from a household that received public assistance, and 69 percent had discipline problems in their previous schools.
The research study was a randomized controlled trial. Eligible students in the school district were randomly assigned to an intervention group that was offered admission to AAA. Students assigned to the control group generally attended traditional middle schools in the same district. Cohort 1, starting in the 1992-1993 school year, included 46 students in the intervention group and 46 students in the control group. Cohort 2, starting in the 1993-1994 school year, included 66 students in the treatment group and 40 students in the control group. The evaluation design included both pre and post measurements and intervention and control groups.
Baseline data and follow-up data were collected annually from school district records and student surveys. Cohort 1 and 2 were each followed for three and two years, respectively. Baseline data collection included studentsí demographic characteristics and risk factors (previous attendance records, standardized test scores, and self-esteem). At the baseline, the treatment group and control group students were generally comparable, with two exceptions: First, the treatment group students were less likely than the control group students to have a mother whose educational attainment fell into the "some college" category; second, the treatment group students were less likely than the control group students to have two or more risk factors. The follow-up surveys included academic outcomes (grades, standardized test scores, dropout rates), personal outcomes (self-esteem and locus of control), and social outcomes (alcohol and drug use, arrests, and pregnancies).
In addition, the research team gathered information about special services received by students in each group, such as counseling; participation in "special classes" in math, English, or other subjects; and referrals to a social service agency for counseling, health needs, or financial assistance.
Key Evaluation Findings
Findings summarized here are drawn from Dynarski et al. (1998), in which AAA was evaluated along with 15 other federally funded SDDAP programs. Results below only pertain to the AAA program.
- Two years after the AAA program started, the average dropout rate among both cohorts of AAA students (2%) was significantly lower than that of control group students enrolled in traditional middle schools (9%).
- Two years after the AAA program started, the average highest grade completed among both cohorts of AAA students (7.3) was significantly higher than that of control group students enrolled in traditional middle schools (6.8).
- Three years after the AAA program started, the dropout rate among Cohort 1 AAA students (3%) was significantly lower than that of control group students enrolled in traditional middle schools (13%).
- Three years after the AAA program started, the average highest grade completed among Cohort 1 AAA students (8.5) was significantly higher than that of control group students enrolled in traditional middle schools (7.8).
- AAA students and control group students did not demonstrate statistically significant differences in math, English, or reading grades at two or three years into the program. Also, the two groups did not differ in percentage time absent from school.
- In the first follow-up year, AAA students and control group students did not have statistically significant differences in the likelihood of receiving on-campus counseling. However, AAA students were significantly less likely to attend special classes in math, English, or other subjects and to be referred to a Social Service Agency for counseling, health needs, or financial assistance.
- Two years and three years after the program started, AAA students and control group students in traditional middle schools generally did not demonstrate statistically significant differences in self-esteem, locus of control, or personal aspirations. The only exception was that Cohort 1 AAA students reported a significantly lower rate of external control in the third-year follow-up survey.
This program could be implemented in public or private school districts either as an independent school or as a special program within an existing school.
This program was initially supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Education as part of the SDDAP during 1991-1995.
- The program was self-contained, with its own buildings, staff, and identity within the district.
- Program enrollment was limited to 100 students.
- Teachers were encouraged to use nontraditional approaches, such as cooperative learning groups, instructional technology, and peer tutoring.
- AAA offered five core subjects: language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and art.
- Each Wednesday, students had opportunities to take a "Wonderful Wednesday" class that included a rotating set of topics chosen based on student interests, including algebra, Spanish, quilting, and science club.
AAA instructional members were regular classroom teachers from the Flint Community Schools school district. The school also had a full-time counselor and a full-time social worker. No information was available regarding their training.
AAA used a curriculum designed by its staff that compressed two years of middle school learning into one year.
Issues to Consider
This program received a "promising" rating. The research, conducted over 1992-1995, was implemented according to rigorous design standards and included an experimental group of 102 students and a comparison group of 86 students.
The research used a randomized controlled trial. However, it is unclear what percentage of the students who were offered AAA admission actually enrolled in the program. If those who declined the offer on average had lower aspirations for education than those who accepted the offer, the true effect of the AAA program might have been overstated. On the other hand, if those who declined the offer were on average more advanced students than those who accepted the offer, the true effect of the AAA program might have been understated. Another potential weakness of this study is that the control group had a higher attrition rate than the intervention group. For example, in the second-year follow-up survey, 96 percent of the treatment-group students responded, compared with 85 percent in the control group. If the lower response rate among control group students was due to a higher dropout rate among these students, the true effect of the AAA program in preventing dropout might have been underestimated.
The cost of the AAA program was evaluated in Rosenberg and Hershey (1995). The average per-student monthly cost for AAA was $790, which was 22 percent higher than that of the regular schools in the same district. The AAA program was considered to be relatively inexpensive compared with the other 15 SDDAP programs, where per-student monthly costs could be as much as $382 higher, which was 109 percent higher than that of the regular schools in the same district.
Overall, the AAA program helped students stay in school but did not noticeably improve student learning or personal outcomes. It should be noted that all statistical significance tests regarding the impact of the program were conducted at the 0.10 level, rather than the more commonly used 0.05 level.
Flint Community Schools school district in Flint, Michigan
Dr. Mark Dynarski
Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
P.O. Box 2393
Princeton, NJ 08543-2393
Additional information about all SDDAP program models and implementation experiences, including those concerning the AAA program, can be found in Hershey, Adelman, and Murray (1995).
Dynarski, Mark, Philip Gleason, Anu Rangarajan, and Robert Wood,
Impacts of Dropout Prevention Programs: Final Report—A Research Report from the School Dropout Demonstration Assistance Program Evaluation,
Princeton, N.J.: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., June 1998.
Hershey, Alan, Nancy Adelman, and Stephen Murray, Helping Kids Succeed: Implementation of the School Dropout Demonstration Assistance Program, Princeton, N.J.: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., September 1995.
Rosenberg, Linda, and Alan Hershey, The Cost of Dropout Prevention Programs, Princeton, N.J.: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., February 1995.