Early Reading First Data Shows Impressive Gains

A community component of the Early Reading First project combined forces with the Nashville Public Library to foster home literacy in a summer program called Lift Off Camp. YMCA Urban Services Program hosted the camp in August to boost learning gains and smooth the transition into kindergarten. Several Vanderbilt Peabody students worked with the children.

Vanderbilt and Metro Nashville Public Schools have collaborated on an Early Reading First project among preschool children in Nashville schools that has yielded “spectacular” results in a preliminary study, according to project leaders.

“The big picture is that high quality language and literacy instruction in pre-K can make a big difference,” said Deborah Rowe, a project co-leader and associate professor of early childhood education at Peabody.

Ongoing evaluations conducted by Vanderbilt researchers who were not part of the program, called Enhanced Language and Literacy Success, measured the performance of the 217 4-year-olds who participated in the project in fall 2009 and again in spring 2010. The children attended Metro preschool classrooms serving low-income children. Forty-five percent were English language learners (ELL), meaning that English is not their first language.

The preliminary data showed impressive performance gains. Vocabulary scores on a test that consistently relates to later reading increased from a mean of 73.1 to 85.3 (with 100 reflecting the average score on national norms). The ELL children’s average scores increased from 55 to 75. African American children’s scores increased from 88 to 94.

While average scores are still well below national averages, this growth significantly narrows the achievement gap between less and more economically advantaged children, the researchers said.

“These final scores are what I would expect to see as average scores in economically advantaged populations, and our teachers are achieving them across the board with children identified by Metro Schools as those who are most in need of pre-K services,” said David Dickinson, project co-leader and professor of education.

“These are important data showing that spectacular results are possible in public preschool classrooms when sufficient resources make available strong support,” Dickinson said.
Rowe agreed. “When you get students to make more than a standard deviation of growth in one year, that’s huge.”

The program is the result of a three-year U.S. Department of Education grant through the Early Reading First grant program. A second Tennessee project is ongoing in the Chattanooga area.

The Peabody project supports 13 classrooms as they adopt a new curriculum called Opening the World of Learning, developed by Dickinson and Judy Schickedanz of Boston University. The program intensifies support for teaching efforts in language, literacy, content knowledge learning and preschool writing skills.