Outcome Evaluation of the Minnesota Reading Corps PreK Program

The limited number of previous evaluations on volunteer-only tutoring programs has shown variation in their effectiveness to improve children’s literacy proficiency. In 2014, NORC at the University of Chicago completed an evaluation of an AmeriCorps literacy intervention program, the Minnesota Reading Corps, which showed that volunteer AmeriCorps members can produce significantly greater increases in preschool student’s emergent literacy skills over a single school year.

The Minnesota Reading Corps program is a data driven statewide initiative with a mission to help every Minnesota child become a proficient reader by the end of third grade. Minnesota Reading Corps’ preschool (PreK) program engages a diverse group of volunteer AmeriCorps members with no prerequisite literacy or education backgrounds to implemented best practices in oral language and emergent literacy development (e.g., rich conversation, interactive book reading, differentiated instruction). For this study, which was conducted for the Corporation for National and Community Service, NORC utilized a matched-comparison Quasi-Experimental Design (QED) study, where comparison PreK sites were matched to each Minnesota Reading Corp site on specific site-level characteristics and student outcomes assessed.

Key Study Findings include:
  • PreK students in the Minnesota Reading Corps program achieved significantly higher emergent literacy assessment scores by the end of the school year than did students enrolled at matched-comparison sites. The 4- and 5-year old students at Minnesota Reading Corps PreK sites outperformed students at matched-comparison sites on all five emergent literacy outcomes assessed: letter sound and letter name fluency (alphabet knowledge), rhyming and alliteration fluency (phonological awareness), and picture name fluency (vocabulary). The effect sizes associated with these differences were not only significant, but substantial in magnitude. Further, 4- and 5-year old Minnesota Reading Corps PreK students met or exceeded end of school year targets for all five emergent literacy outcomes, suggesting that they were Kindergarten-ready on these critical skills.
  • The Minnesota Reading Corps PreK program was equally effective for students regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, or Dual Language Learner (DLL) status. Students from all subgroups examined produced significant growth in emergent literacy outcomes regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, or DLL status. In instances where statistically significant differences were found, students at Minnesota Reading Corps PreK sites traditionally at-risk for academic failure (i.e., DLLs, non-White students) grew more over the course of the year than similar types of students at comparison sites.
  • The Minnesota Reading Corps program is replicable in multiple preschool settings. The Minnesota Reading Corps PreK program was consistently effective across the individual sites where the students received program services, regardless of the type of school setting in which the program was implemented.

In sum, the results suggest that the Minnesota Reading Corps PreK program provides a common infrastructure for coordinated, intentional instruction through a Literacy Rich Schedule, clear direction for interacting with PreK students, and proven strategies for embedding language and literacy instruction at times during the school day that are often overlooked. When instruction, conversation, self-directed play, and structured activities are embedded within a common context and intentionally linked by a theme, children are better able to make sense of language and build proficiency.

Study Description: Between 2011 and 2014, NORC designed and implemented an Impact and Process Evaluation of the Minnesota Reading Corps Program on behalf of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). The evaluation consisted of three components: a feasibility study (Phase I); a process assessment (Phase I & II); and an impact evaluation (Phase II). The Phase I feasibility study included a thorough review of the literature; a field assessment with six similar literacy enrichment and/or reading tutoring programs; the development of two impact evaluation designs (for PreK and K-3 programs), assessment tools and random assignment procedures; and fielding an AmeriCorps member survey. The process assessment consisted of identifying, recruiting, and conducting detailed site visits with 25 Minnesota Reading Corps programs, including Head Start programs, community-based preschools, and public schools to assess program context, fidelity to the Reading Corps model, and facilitators and barriers to program implementation. In addition, a baseline and follow-up survey were completed with AmeriCorps members to determine the program's effect on their educational goals and civic engagement. After successfully completing the study design phase, NORC was awarded Phase II of the project to implement an experimental impact evaluation of the K-3 program and a quasi-experimental evaluation of the PreK program to measure the impact of Minnesota Reading Corps on students' literacy levels. The results from both studies showed that younger students (i.e., PreK, Kindergarten, and first grade students) participating in the Minnesota Reading Corps program achieved significantly higher literacy gains than did similar students not participating in the program. 

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