Connecting the Dots: Raising A Reader Builds Evidence Base for its Parent Engagement and Early Literacy Program

Research BriefEarly ChildhoodNov 1 2014

Early literacy skills are the foundation for school success. This is particularly important for groups of children at heightened risk of poor educational outcomes, such as English language learners and children from low-income families. Informed by a growing body of research and evaluation studies that point to the importance of home literacy habits, some early literacy programs have increased their focus on parenting practices that support children’s academic success. Although the evidence base for these programs is promising, large-scale experimental studies to comprehensively assess whether they work across multiple settings and with different groups of children are essential next steps.

This report examines the case of Raising A Reader (RAR), which has been steadily building its evidence base over many years and is now positioned to undertake such a comprehensive evaluation. RAR is a national nonprofit literacy organization which, through work with direct service agencies, helps develop sustainable home literacy routines essential to language and literacy development. Currently active in 34 states, the program reached more than 130,000 children and their families in 2013. RAR’s programming is grounded in a large body of research that substantiates the critical role that parents play in nurturing their children’s educational success through home-based reading practices. Raising A Reader has for many years informed its program planning and expansion with independent evaluation studies. These evaluations across a wide range of implementation settings found that families participating in RAR increased their home literacy behaviors and children improved their reading skills. These useful but small-scale studies led the organization to prepare for taking the next steps aimed at looking comprehensively at the RAR program through a random assignment evaluation, the most rigorous method of evaluation research, often called a randomized controlled trial or impact evaluation.

Raising A Reader is working with Child Trends, an independent evaluator, to use research to continue to inform and improve its program and to prepare for a large-scale impact evaluation in typical RAR settings. This report offers a case study that may be informative to other programs in the parent engagement/early literacy field that seek to use a variety of informal and formal data effectively for continuous quality improvement and to build their evidence base. The report first summarizes the research base for family literacy programs and the emerging evidence base for RAR. It then describes the RAR program and how it uses a variety of data to regularly improve its program, inform programming integrity, and prepare for a randomized controlled trial. In closing, the report addresses the lessons for the broader field.