Program

Nov 02, 2015

OVERVIEW

READY4K! is an eight-month-long text messaging program for parents of preschoolers. This program simplifies parenting practices into short, manageable steps to increase parents’ ability to support their children’s literacy development. An experimental evaluation found this program to have significant positive impacts on parents’ home literacy activities with their children and on students’ early literacy test scores.

DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM

Target Population: Parents of four-year old preschoolers

READY4K! is a text messaging program designed to break complex parenting practices into small, achievable steps with the goal of helping parents to support the literacy development of their four-year-old preschool children. The program, offered in English, Spanish, and Chinese, consists of short text messages, or “texts,” sent to parents’ cell phones three times per week over the course of a full school year, or about eight months. These texts are linked to the California Preschool Learning Foundations and follow a “spiral” curriculum that becomes increasingly advanced while also reintroducing and reinforcing concepts. The three weekly texts include: 1) a “FACT” text to encourage parent buy-in; 2) a “TIP” text to strengthen parents’ self-efficacy; and 3) a “GROWTH” text offering encouragement, reinforcement, and follow-up tips. The content of these texts includes a variety of literacy skills along with related parenting practices. During the 2013-14 school year, sending these texts to parents cost less than one dollar per family.

EVALUATION OF PROGRAM

York, B. N., & Loeb, S. (2014). One step at a time: The effects of an early literacy text messaging program for parents of preschoolers. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Evaluated population: A total of 519 families in the San Francisco Unified School District who were enrolling their children in preschool were enrolled in the study. The children of these families were an average age of 4 years, 47 percent Hispanic, 29 percent Chinese, and 15 percent Black. The average age of the parents was 34 years. Of the total number of parents, 54 percent chose to receive texts in English, 25 percent chose Spanish, and 22 percent chose Chinese.

Approach: This was a multi-site study that included stand-alone preschools and preschool sites that were co-located at elementary schools. Families at stand-alone schools were recruited via enrollment forms distributed by existing preschool enrollment clerks; families at co-located sites were recruited via mail and/or telephone. Families were randomly assigned at the individual level within each site to either a READY4K! treatment group or a control group who received “placebo” texts that included information such as vaccination requirements approximately every two weeks. At baseline, control group parents reported that their children asked to be read to significantly more frequently than parents in the treatment group did. There were no other significant differences between groups at baseline.

Parents filled out an enrollment form prior to the start of the intervention and were given a survey at the end of the year. Student literacy outcomes were measured using the spring early literacy assessment administered by the school district, which contained a lower-case alphabet knowledge sub-test and a letter sounds sub-test. Additional data were obtained from an end-of-year survey given to the children’s teachers as well as school administrative records.

The outcomes measured included: 1) home literacy activities administered by parents, such as telling the children stories, pointing out two words that begin with the same sound, pointing out two words that rhyme, reciting nursery rhymes, looking at pictures in a book, showing the children the different parts of a book, and playing games or working on puzzles; 2) parental involvement at school, such as asking the child’s teacher about how the child gets along with others, asking what the child is doing in school, and asking what he or she can do at home to support literacy development; and 3) students’ spring literacy test scores on skills in name writing, upper-case letters, lower-case letters, letter sounds, beginning word sounds, print and word awareness, rhyme awareness, and overall literacy.

A total of 70 of the enrolled families left the school district before or during the school year. Of the remaining 449 families, 2 percent intentionally opted out of the study, 36 percent did not fill out the end-of-year parent survey, and 14 percent had children who were not assessed in the spring. The response rate for the end-of-year teacher survey was 57 percent.

Results: READY4K! had significant positive impacts on parents’ instances of reciting nursery rhymes (ES = 0.3), looking at pictures in a book (ES = 0.3), showing children different parts of a book (ES = 0.3), and playing games or working on puzzles (0.3). Impacts on children’s literacy test scores were reported for three groupings: 1) all students tested; 2) students who progressed to the lower-case letters sub-test; and 3) students who progressed to the letter sounds subtest. On this assessment, READY4K! had significant positive impacts on skills in letter sounds (ES = 0.3 for all three groupings), upper-case letters for students who progressed to the lower-case letters (ES = 0.3) and letter sounds (ES = 0.3) subtests, and the overall score for students who progressed to the lower-case letters and letter sounds sub-tests (ES = 0.3 for both groupings).

The program had marginally significant positive impacts on parents’ instances of telling their children stories (ES = 0.2), pointing out two words that begin with the same sound (ES = 0.2), pointing out two words that rhyme (ES = 0.2), asking teachers how the child gets along with others (ES = 0.2), asking what the child is doing in school (ES = 0.2), and asking what they can do at home to help the child (ES = 0.1). The program also had marginally significant positive impacts on the students’ scores on skills in lower-case letters among all students and students who progressed to the lower-case letters sub-test (ES = 0.2 for both groupings).

READY4K! did not have an impact on the children’s skills in beginning word sounds, print and word awareness, rhyme awareness, or name writing. Additionally, the program did not have an impact on upper-case letters or the summed score among the full group of students, and nor did it have an impact on skills in lower-case letters for children that progressed to the letter sounds sub-test.

A sub-group analysis by race/ethnicity revealed additional significant positive and negative impacts. Among Hispanic parents, READY4K! had a significant positive impact on parents’ instances of asking the teacher how child gets along with others (ES = 0.4) and asking the teacher what the child is doing in school (ES = 0.5). However, the program had a significant negative impact on Hispanic parents’ instances of specific early literacy activities (ES = -0.7). Among Chinese parents, the program had a significant negative impact on parents’ instances of asking the teacher how the child gets along with others (ES = -0.4) and asking what the child is doing in school (ES = -0.4). Among the children, READY4K! had a significant positive impact on skills in letter sounds for Black children (ES = 0.6 for all three groupings). The program had a significant negative impact on skills in lower-case letters for Chinese children overall and in the group that progressed to the lower-case letters sub-test (ES = -0.6 for both groupings), as well as skills in upper-case letters for Chinese children who progressed to the lower-case letters sub-test (ES = -0.5).

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

References

York, B. N., & Loeb, S. (2014). One step at a time: The effects of an early literacy text messaging program for parents of preschoolers. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

KEYWORDS: Children (3-11), Preschool, Males and Females (Co-ed), Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, Urban, Home-based, Cost, Parent or Family Component, Reading/Literacy

Program information last updated on 11/02/2015.