Aug 31, 2007


Breakthrough To Literacy is designed for preschool and kindergarten children who are making the transition from oral language to reading and understanding printed materials. An experimental evaluation of Breakthrough To Literacy randomized 44 schools. Analyses found that it had no observable impacts on children’s early literacy skills. The program also had no consistent impact on teacher behavior or topics that were addressed in the classroom.


Target population: 3-5 year-old children

The Breakthrough To Literacy (BTL) program is based on the finding that early childhood (ages 3-4) vocabulary development and exposure to printed text is an highly reliable indicator for later literacy and academic achievement. BTL utilizes computer software to help teach listening and attention skills. Teachers in the program are also given extensive training in early childhood literacy development and how to determine what individual children need to help them develop literacy skills.


Layzer, C., Boulay, B., & Hurtig, R. (2005). The CLIMBERs study: The effects of one year of Breakthrough To Literacy in preschool on classrooms and students. Institute of Education Services, US Department of Education. Washington, DC.

Evaluated population: 842 preschool students recruited from schools in Chicago. On average around 88% of students came from low-income families. Around half of the children in the sample were English-speaking students and almost 85% were described as “students of color”. The average age of students at baseline was 4.77 years.

Approach: Preschool students were recruited from 44 North and South Chicago schools and were stratified according to geographic location and whether Spanish instruction was used. Randomization was then conducted at the school level with each school either being assigned to the Breakthrough To Literacy intervention condition or to the control group which would be given the preschool’s normal instruction. One control school dropped out, leaving 43. Two cohorts of students were followed as they received the intervention during their preschool years. A baseline data collection was taken of all students in the study and after the intervention had been received, classrooms and teachers were again assessed at a one year follow-up period on items which measured the involvement and supportiveness of the caregiver and the quality of the care center. Additionally, teachers were assessed on how well they addressed the following needs of their classes: oral language activities/use in the classroom, print knowledge, phonological awareness, print motivation, involvement of English Language Learners (ELL), literacy resources, and literacy activities. Students were assessed on print, phonological, and vocabulary development.

Results: There were no differences between the intervention group and the control group on any of the tests of early literacy skills. Likewise, there were no differences observed in teacher behaviors between the control and intervention group in either of the follow-up data collection points. Also, no subgroup impacts were found. At the year-one follow-up, teachers in the intervention condition did not differ from teachers in the control condition on how much time they spent addressing different language development topics. At the year-two follow-up, teachers in the intervention condition spent more time on oral language topics and spent less time on developing phonological awareness in children compared with the control condition; but no other classroom impacts were found.


Program curriculum is available for purchase at:



Layzer, C., Boulay, B., & Hurtig, R. (2005). The CLIMBERs study: The effects of one year of Breakthrough To Literacy in preschool on classrooms and students. Institute of Education Services, US Department of Education. Washington, DC.

KEYWORDS: Early Childhood (0-5), Children, Education, Academic Achievement, Skills Training, Life Skills Training, Hispanic or Latino, Black or African American, Child Care, Early Childhood Education, School Based, Cognitive Development, Literacy, Preschool, manual, co-ed

Program information last updated on 8/31/07