Governor Ducey Announces Expanded Effort To Close The Achievement Gap

News Release

January 13, 2020

Successful Arizona Pilot Program Designed To Improve Low-Performing Schools To Expand Statewide

PHOENIX — Governor Doug Ducey announced an expanded effort to scale a pilot program aimed at closing the achievement gap for struggling schools. The new program, known as “Project Rocket,” will provide additional dollars as well as access to proven strategies to help improve outcomes at targeted schools.

In his State of the State Address, Governor Ducey said: 

And we have a proven model to scale success in our most struggling schools.

The idea is straightforward. Help struggling schools with tools, resources and expertise to produce better results for students. We call it “Project Rocket.” We’re working with Representative Michelle Udall to make it a reality. We owe it to the kids in these schools. They’re waiting. Let’s not let them down.


In 2015, Arizona invested $575,000 to support a public-private partnership with Avondale Elementary School District aimed at improving student outcomes. The school serves more than 5,000 west valley students, with nearly 70% of them residing in low-income areas. The program provided an additional $150 in per-pupil resources designed to assist students, teachers, and staff members in meeting the goal of increasing student achievement  — and it was very successful. 

In just three years, Avondale Elementary School District improved its AzMERIT performance by 13% in English Language Arts and by 18% in Math, relative to the statewide average improvement of 7% in English and 6% in Math. After that, Arizona added Deer Valley Unified School District and Wickenburg Unified School District to the program, both of which are experiencing similar encouraging results. Superintendents for all three school districts attended today’s speech as guests of the governor. 

What’s Next

The Governor’s Executive Budget will expand this successful model. Schools rated “D” or “F” may opt into the three-year pilot program to receive grants aimed at supporting the implementation of proven strategies to close the achievement gap, such as those used at Avondale, Deer Valley and Wickenburg. Schools with a “C” rating that serve 60 percent or higher free and reduced lunch students may also opt-in to the program. 

The program will monitor academic success across three indicators: moving up a letter grade, earning at least 50 percent of growth points in the letter grade framework, and improvement in attendance. 

More details will be announced along with the Governor’s Executive Budget later this week.