Grantee Spotlight – Building Assets Reducing Risks (BARR)

This project was designed to validate an innovative high school improvement strategy aimed at increasing teacher effectiveness and improving student achievement.  The model was evaluated using a rigorous in-school randomized, controlled trial and shown to have a significant positive impact on student grade point averages, course failure rates and standardized test scores.  

Description of Project

The Building Assets, Reducing Risks (BARR) model gives schools a comprehensive, intentional approach to meeting students’ academic, social, and emotional needs. Teaching becomes more purposeful, direct instruction becomes more effective, and students thrive with expanded support. 

BARR was designed to ease the transition from middle to high school through the use of eight strategies. These include dividing students into cohorts to allow teachers to know them better, teacher team meetings addressing student progress, risk-review meetings, a social and emotional learning curriculum, and increased family involvement. Fundamental elements of the approach are creating positive, intentional relationships (staff to staff, staff to students, and students to students), collaborative problem solving by teacher teams, and using existing technology platforms and real-time student data to guide instructional action.

BARR was the focus of an i3 Development grant that began in 2010 and ended in 2014.  Based on the positive outcomes of the Development grant, a five-year i3 Validation grant was awarded in 2013 to further expand and study the model.

There are currently 11 high schools serving as study sites across six states (California, Maine, Minnesota, and Kentucky). Additional schools throughout the country are testing a broad adoption strategy, bringing the total project impact to more than 17,000 students and 800 teachers.  Implementation sites vary dramatically in size, geography, student and teacher demographics, and policies, but all are high-poverty with 51 percent of sites being rural. BARR sites vary from Bucksport High School in rural Maine (with 60 ninth grade students) to Hemet High School in southern California (with 600 ninth grade students).


Description of Evaluation

The year-long randomized controlled trial of the Building Assets-Reducing Risks (BARR) program showed that high school students who participated in the program demonstrated improved academic achievement when compared to peers who did not receive the program. In addition, when all students received the program in the subsequent two years, the prior achievement gap between Hispanic and non-Hispanic students was eliminated by the end of the second year, and remained so through the end of the third year.

A total of 555 ninth graders in a large California suburban high school were randomly assigned to BARR or non-BARR conditions, matched by gender and ethnicity. Students in each group were divided into groups of more proficient and less proficient for analyses. At the end of year one, all BARR students had more course credits, higher GPAs, and higher standardized test scores in reading and math than control students. Subgroup analysis showed that students judged as less proficient at baseline in the BARR group earned significantly more credits and scored higher on standardized testing than comparable control students.

BARR also reduced failure rate. At the end of year one, the failure rate was 21% for BARR students and 32% for non-BARR students. In years two and three, all ninth graders received BARR. By the end of year three, the failure rate was 18.5%, a 42% decrease from the year before BARR was introduced. By the end of year three, failure rates for the Hispanic subgroup had decreased from 41% in the year-one non-BARR condition to 21%.

The evaluation report is publicly available here:


Additional BARR achievements include:

  • More than 15 years of demonstrated success in transforming schools.
  • Inclusion in the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP).
  • The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), a registry run by the U.S. Department of Education, reviewed an evaluation of BARR. The WWC stated that the research "met evidence standards without reservation,” the highest possible rating for a study reviewed by the WWC, and the results were highly statistically significant.

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