Early Reading First
Clayton Early Learning was awarded and implemented two federally-funded Early Reading First (ERF) projects with demonstrated effectiveness. Part of the President's "Good Start, Grow Smart" initiative, ERF was a professional development project designed to transform existing early education programs into centers of excellence that provide high-quality, early education to young children and prepare children to enter kindergarten with the language, cognitive and early reading skills necessary for school success. Clayton Early Learning directly impacted over 2,000 children and families throughout the metro Denver through this initiative. Our ERF project was titled “Results through Early Advantages in Learning” or REAL.
Clayton Early Learning’s project REAL included 10 classrooms at four agencies. Participating centers were located at seven sites throughout the Denver Metro area and included Head Start as well as community-based classrooms. ERF served over 500 children and families during the course of the project. Approximately 31 percent of the children served by the project spoke a primary language other than English (as defined by parent report). Literacy coaches spent 10 hours weekly coaching in each classroom. Additionally, teachers participated in four hours of focused training and two hours of reflective learning discussions during each six-week professional development cycle. Instructional leaders from each agency came together every six weeks to discuss successes and barriers to project implementation.
The REAL evaluation during the fourth year focused primarily on the impact that the ERF intervention had on child language and literacy development. Kindergarten-eligible children who were enrolled in Project REAL classrooms for six months or more made statistically significant gains in their PPVT-4 standard scores. On average, children increased 8.6 standard score points (a statistically significant change). Increases over time in standard scores on the PPVT-4 were greater for children who had pretest scores that were below the test’s mean of 100. These children increased nearly 10 standard score points on average. Two-thirds of kindergarten-eligible children enrolled for six months or more had post-test PPVT-4 scores of 85 or greater. Kindergarten-eligible children enrolled for six months or more could identify an average of 17 upper-case letters at the post test, with an average increase of nine letters over the course of the year. In addition, Head Start classrooms participating in the study exceeded national norms on nearly all dimensions measured by the CLASS tool.
In 2007, the U.S. Department of Education benchmark for number of letters recognized was 17 or more letters and the target number continued to increase each year. The percentage of Project REAL participant children achieving the benchmark for letter recognition continued to increase (despite the increase in the target number) each year of the project. This continued improvement can be attributed to the successful integration of a system for using data to inform instruction. Processes were developed to support intentional data reflection. These processes built professional dialogue into the work and kept the focus on what was happening for children. Well-crafted data dialogue did not lead to a “teach to the test” paradigm, instead it led to the kinds of intentional approaches necessary for differentiation and effective teaching.