Early Literacy

Formative assessment programs can help teachers to improve instruction by providing information on student needs, identify instructional strategies to address those needs, and give teachers a systematic look at children’s early literacy skills. For years, formative assessments have been popular in upper elementary grades, and their use is also increasing in the early elementary years. Yet, we know very little about the effectiveness of these programs.

In this study, a research team at the Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) at Stanford University, led by faculty director Susanna Loeb, introduced a comprehensive, early-literacy formative assessment program into schools of an urban school district during the 2011-12 school year. The study tracks the program’s implementation and its effects on teaching practices and student outcomes. It provides unique insights on the implementation of early literacy assessment systems, as well as the difficulties of implementing such a system district-wide. The district chose to use an early literacy formative assessment that measures the fundamental components of literacy, and was designed as a screening, diagnostic, and progress monitoring system.

This study used a multi-site, cluster-randomized trials design. The elementary schools in the district were matched based on specific characteristics, and one of the two matched schools was randomly selected into the treatment group. All pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade classes in the treated schools received the formative assessment program. This included professional development for administrators, teachers and literacy coaches, the administration of an early-literacy formative assessment, and grade-level “data meetings” in which coaches facilitated teacher conversations about assessment data.

This project has received generous financial support from the Silver Giving Foundation, and the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund.