Examining research on the Big Lift preschool initiative

Celia Gomez and colleagues from the RAND Corporation have released a new research brief that examines Big Lift, a preschool to third-grade initiative designed to boost literacy skills and ensure that children are reading proficiently by third grade (Year 4). The initiative has been implemented in seven US school districts in San Mateo County, California, that have below-average third-grade reading levels. According to the brief, Big Lift seeks to improve third-grade reading through a set of four co-ordinated and integrated “pillars”: High-Quality Preschool, Summer Learning, School Attendance and Family Engagement.

The researchers have examined outcomes for two cohorts of pupils: Cohort 1 includes pupils in four districts who receive Big Lift services, and Cohort 2 an additional three districts. Data sources include early childhood cognitive assessments, kindergarten (Year 1) and first-grade (Year 2) entry forms completed by parents, and the San Mateo County Office of Education’s countywide data system.

The current research brief is part of a multiphase evaluation of Big Lift, and reports on findings after two years of implementation. Key findings are as follows:

  • Big Lift preschool children in the 2017–2018 kindergarten class were better prepared for kindergarten than demographically similar peers who did not attend preschool — but they were less prepared than similar peers who attended non–Big Lift preschool programmes.
  • Children who attended two years of Big Lift preschool were more kindergarten-ready than similar peers who attended only one year.
  • In the 2016–2017 kindergarten class, Big Lift preschool children had reading levels at the end of kindergarten and the start of first grade that were on par with similar peers who attended other preschool programmes and higher than similar peers who attended no preschool at all.

Source: The Big Lift preschool, two years in: What have we learned so far? (2018), RAND Corporation Research Briefs RB-10047-SVCF

Early struggling readers and summertime intervention

Kristen Beach and colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, examined the effects of receiving a reading programme during the summer on the reading achievement of struggling readers in comparison to similarly performing struggling readers who did not receive this summer intervention.

Thirty-two rising second and third graders (Years 3 and 4) in a large urban school in south-eastern US comprised the experimental group. To be eligible for the study, pupils had to score beneath a cutoff point for each grade level on reading fluency. The comparison group was composed of pupils at a nearby school who were matched by age, ethnicity and standardised test scores the prior spring. Both schools were Title I schools (Title 1 provides financial assistance to local educational agencies and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families) and both sets of pupils were African-American and Hispanic and from low-income backgrounds.

Pupils in the experimental group received 15 intensive hour-long one-to-one or one-to-two sessions from 10 teachers using the Sound Partners programme five times a week for three weeks. Post-test scores in the autumn showed that although pupils who received Sound Partners in the summer outscored the control group in overall reading measures by 0.25 SD, gains in fluency were minimal, and no gains in any area were statistically significant. The authors discuss these findings and conclude that for early readers who have not mastered basic decoding and fluency, an intervention that is longer than 15 hours over three weeks is necessary in order to produce significant improvement in reading. They recommend that planners of summer programmes aimed at increasing reading achievement carefully consider the variables that will lead to the greatest success.

Source: Effects of a summer reading intervention on reading skills for low-income Black and Hispanic students in elementary school (April 2018), Reading & Writing Quarterly, DOI: 10.1080/10573569.2018.1446859

What makes for an effective summer reading programme?

This study from the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences tested the effectiveness of a summer reading programme on improving reading comprehension for disadvantaged Grade 3 pupils (age 8–9) reading below the 50th percentile. As part of the programme, children were sent a single delivery of eight books matched to their reading level and interest area during the first part of the summer. The delivery was followed by six weekly reminder postcards.

Findings showed that the summer reading programme did not have a statistically significant impact on pupil reading comprehension. However, the authors note that the study’s conclusions are constrained by several aspects of the programme’s design, including that the programme lasted just one summer and did not include teacher instruction and parent involvement. In previous studies, programmes with these components were found to be effective.

Source: Does a summer reading program based on Lexiles affect reading comprehension? (2012), Institute of Education Sciences