In 2009, Olean City School District, in Olean, New York, received a federal grant to administer an Early Reading First (ERF) program beginning in the 2009–10 academic year and continuing through the 2011–12 academic year. Through this grant, Olean City School District is providing full-day programming to 3- and 4-year-old children at 14 sites, both during the school year and through a four-week summer component. The goals of the program are to improve literacy instruction in these preschool classrooms, support improvement in the literacy environment in students’ homes, and facilitate a smooth transition for students between preschool and kindergarten. The program focuses on five major program components: (1) implementation of research-based early literacy curricula and instructional materials; (2) strong professional development and mentoring opportunities for classroom teachers and assistants; (3) training on language and literacy development and literacy materials for students’ parents; (4) regular assessments of student progress to inform individualized instruction and identify students in need of special services; and (5) support for a smooth transition to kindergarten.
This three-year evaluation of the Olean ERF program is designed to track program implementation and determine the program’s impact on teacher practice and student achievement. To achieve these objectives, AIR evaluation staff is conducting classroom observations using the Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation Pre-K (ELLCO Pre-K) Tool; interviewing key program staff at each participating site; administering a survey to all ERF classroom staff; conducting a parent survey; and administering three literacy assessments to ERF students at baseline and during the second and third years of the program. In addition, AIR evaluation staff is gathering data on implementation of the ERF summer program through a telephone focus group with teachers and a brief online survey of literacy coaches.
To date, the evaluation has provided a rich description of program implementation, including teachers’ use of data to plan and differentiate instruction and their use of multiple strategies to promote parent involvement. Overall, evaluation results indicate that the program is having a positive impact on teacher instructional practice and student achievement. Analyses of classroom observation measures indicate that most ERF classrooms were exceeding benchmarks for general classroom environment and language and literacy instruction by the end of Year 2. Student performance on student literacy assessments also showed statistically significant gains between Year 1 and Year 2 on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening for Prekindergarten, and the Get Ready to Read! assessment of prereading skills.