Program

Jul 23, 2013

OVERVIEW

Even Start is a family-focused intervention program designed to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and low literacy. The program has three goals: (a) to “help parents improve [family] literacy or basic education skills,” (b) to “help parents become full-time partners in educating their children,” and (c) to “assist children in reaching their full potential as learners” (U.S. Department of Education, 1998). Even Start components include adult education and literacy, parenting education, early childhood education, and various support services (e.g., transportation, child care, counseling). Experimental evaluations find that participation in Even Start has produced certain modest positive impacts for parents and children. Parents in Even Start were more likely to attain their GED than control parents; however, program parents did not improve literacy, parenting or personal skills.

Compared with their control group peers, Even Start children performed significantly higher on one measure of school readiness; however, other measures of school readiness were not significant. Finally, older Even Start participants (age five at program debut) had significantly fewer behavior problems than the control group participants. This decrease was not found, however, for younger participants (0-4 at program debut).

One randomized evaluation study found no significant differences between control group children, parents, and families and treatment children, parents, and families, respectively, on any measures except one; there was a significant difference in the number of reading materials in the home between the Even Start families and the control families.

DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM

Target population: Parents and children up to age 8 from low-income families. Parents must be eligible to participate in an adult education program under the Adult Education Act

Authorized in 1989, Even Start is a family-focused intervention and has three core components that address its goals. The first component is adult education and literacy. Included in this are Adult Basic Education (ABE), English as a Second Language (ESL), and training for obtaining the General Education Development (GED) Certificate. The second component is parenting education, which includes instruction for parents on supporting their child’s education. The third component is early childhood education, which includes direct intervention to prepare children for school. All Even Start sites are required to address each of these three core services, however, the specific activities and services in each component is left up to the discretion of the individual sites. This allows a site to tailor services to the needs of a particular population and focus on specific outcomes within that population. Even Start sites are also required to provide some core services through joint sessions with parents and children.

In addition to the three core components, Even Start sites may provide support services. These services may include transportation, child care, nutrition services, screening and referral for chemical dependency, referrals for mental health and counseling, and job referrals. Even Start also includes an evaluation component. Even Start components are coordinated with existing service providers in communities, when possible, to avoid duplication of services.

Families participating in Even Start are required to participate in activities in all three components of the program. Each Even Start program is expected to provide at least 60 hours of adult education, 20 hours of parenting education and 65 hours of early childhood education per month. On average, parents are involved in 95 hours of adult education and 35 hours of parenting education services per year. Children spend an average of 15.5 hours per month in early childhood education provided by Even Start programs. A majority of families only participate for one year; less than a quarter of families participate for more than two years. The service delivery mode varies from site to site.

EVALUATION(S) OF PROGRAM

U.S. Department of Education. (2003). Third national Even Start evaluation: Program impacts and implications for improvement. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Planning and Evaluation Service.
Evaluated population: The Experimental Design Study (EDS) sample consisted of 463 families; about two-thirds of the sample (309 families) was randomly assigned to an experimental group and one-third (154 families) to a control group. Children in the program were between birth and 5 years of age with a majority of children between 3 and 5 years of age.

Approach: The national evaluation had two components (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). The first was data collected through the Even Start Performance Information Reporting System (ESPIRS), which collects common data from all Even Start sites. The second component was the Experimental Design Study (EDS). In this summary, we focus on findings from the EDS, which included 18 sites. These sites were not representative of the Even Start population because Hispanic families in urban areas were over-represented. Participants in the experimental group began the Even Start program immediately while participants in the control group were not allowed to begin the Even Start program for one year. Data were collected at pre-intervention, post-intervention one year later, and in a one-year follow-up. Results of the one-year follow-up have not been released.

Results: Results of the study showed very few significant differences between the experimental and control groups. On measures of literacy, experimental group parents and children did not show significantly better performance than control group parents and children. Further, teacher ratings of children’s social skills did not differ significantly between the control and experimental groups. There were also no differences in school records in terms of tardiness, absences or special education placement. The only significant difference between the control and experimental groups were teacher ratings of behavior problems using the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS). Teachers rated elementary school age experimental group children as having fewer behavior problems than control group children. However, this difference was not significant for preschool children, who were rated using the SSRS by preschool teachers.

St. Pierre, R. G., Swartz, J. P., Murray, S., & Deck, D. (1996). Improving Family Literacy: Findings from the National Even Start Evaluation. Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates Inc.

Evaluated Population: Information on the evaluated population was not provided for the In-Depth Study. The description of the evaluated population comes from the National Evaluation Information System (NEIS), and may be slightly different from participants in the In-Depth Study.

For the adults in the program, 79 percent did not complete high school, 66 percent had a total annual income under $10,000, the average adult entered the program with the literacy skills of a high school student, 46 percent earned their primary source of income through job wages and 49 percent pulled their primary source of income from government assistance. Of the adults, 40 percent were white, 26 percent black, 22 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Native American, and 8 percent Asian or Pacific islander. English was the primary language of 66 percent of the adults and Spanish was for 26 percent of the adults.

For the children in the program, the average pretest vocabulary score fell at the 9th percentile, which is very low. Half of families were couples with children, 37 percent were in single parent families, 13 percent had another living arrangement. Among the children, 70 percent were assessed as having a disability.

Approach: This paper analyzed data from two data collection efforts: the In-Depth Study and the National Evaluation Information System (NEIS). The In-Depth Study collected data from families in five projects. The 200 families were randomly assigned to be either in Even Start or a control group. Data were collected just before beginning the program, when the children where about four, at nine months after entering the program, and at 18 months after entering the program. The NEIS is an annual survey of the program, not randomized, and includes all projects. The data are only about program participants.

The description of this paper focuses on the In-Depth Study findings, since those were experimental.

The datasets measured school readiness skills, vocabulary, whether the parent has obtained a GED, parent literacy, parent expectations of their child and parenting skills.

Results: There was a significant difference in the number of reading materials in the home between the Even Start families and the control families.

There was no significant difference between the Even Start children and the control group children on the following: gains in vocabulary; change in literacy scores; how a parent and child interact while reading a book together; on expectations of their children to graduate from high school. For the family itself, there were no significant differences between the Even Start families and the control families on perceived social support, family resources, income, income sources, and employment status.

St. Pierre, R.G., Ricciuti, A.E., & Rimdzius, T.A. (2005). Effects of a family literacy program and their parents: Findings from an evaluation of the Even Start Family Literacy Program. Developmental Psychology, 41(6), 953-970.

Evaluated population: A total of 463 families participated in the study.  Seventy-five percent of the sample was Hispanic.  There were no significant differences between groups in terms of demographic characteristics at baseline.

Approach: Participants were randomly assigned to either a treatment (N=463) or control group (N=154).  There were no significant differences between groups at baseline.  Families in the control group were not allowed to join Even Start for 1 year, but could join and participate in other social and educational programs.

To measure the effectiveness of the program, data were collected on child literacy (including parent-reports), parent literacy, child social skills, and problem behaviors.  Data were collected at pretest (in the Fall), post-test (in the following Spring), and at 1-year follow-up (the next Spring).  However, analyses at follow-up were non-experimental and thus are not reported below.

Results: As reported previously, there were no significant differences between the treatment and control groups at post-test.  While families in Even Start did make gains in literacy, families in the control group had similar levels of improvement.

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

References:

St. Pierre, R.G., Ricciuti, A.E., & Rimdzius, T.A. (2005). Effects of a family literacy program and their parents: Findings from an evaluation of the Even Start Family Literacy Program. Developmental Psychology, 41(6), 953-970.

St. Pierre, R. G., Swartz, J. P., Murray, S., & Deck, D. (1996). Improving family literacy: Findings from the National Even Start Evaluation. Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates Inc

U.S. Department of Education. (1998). Even Start: Evidence from the past and a look to the future. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Planning and Evaluation Service.

U.S. Department of Education. (2003). Third national Even Start evaluation: Program impacts and implications for improvement. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Planning and Evaluation Service.

KEYWORDS:  Infants (0-12 months), Toddlers (12-36 months), Children (3-11), High-Risk, Clinic-based, Home-based, Hispanic or Latino, Child Care, Early Childhood Education, Skills Training, Counseling/Therapy, Education, Academic Motivation/Self-Concept/Expectations/Engagement, Social Skills/Life Skills, Reading/Literacy, Behavioral Problems, Other Education, Attendance

Program information last updated 7/23/13