The Effectiveness of the Manchester Even Start Program in Improving Literacy Outcomes for Preschool Latino Students

Article excerpt

Abstract. Although widely implemented, the effectiveness of the Even Start program and other programs involving home-visiting and bilingual education in improving preschool literacy outcomes, particularly among Latino students, is uncertain. This study used a non-equivalent groups design to compare preschool literacy outcomes (measured by the PALS-PreK assessment) of 4-year-old Latino preschool students enrolled in the Manchester Even Start program to a comparison group consisting of low-income and ethnically diverse 4-year-old students enrolled in Manchester's Title I preschool program. The primary differences between the Even Start and Title I presehool programs were the presence of a bilingual teacher in the Even Start class and the participation of the Even Start students and their families in home visits, parent and child interactive literacy activities, and adult ESOL classes. Multiple regression analysis, controlling for pretest scores, indicated that 4-year-old students' participation in the Even Start program (N=12) was associated with posttest scores that were 14.51 points higher (p<.05) than those of 4-year-old Title I students (N=25). While the ability to generalize these findings is limited due to the non-randomized study design and the small sample size, the results provide evidence of the short-term effectiveness of the Manchester Even Start program.

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Improving literacy outcomes for preschool children is one of the primary objectives of the national Even Start program. This focus comes from a myriad of evidence suggesting that early childhood literacy development is a necessary condition of future academic success (e.g., Chall, Jacobs, & Baldwin, 1990; Juel, 1988; Snow & Tabors, 1993). Improving early childhood literacy outcomes for minority children (including Latinos) and children living in poverty is of particular importance to the Even Start program, due to the increased risk of substandard literacy development faced by these children. A growing body of research suggests that children of the poor are more likely to have trouble in school and when learning to read (e.g., Chaney, 1992; Fernandez-Fein & Baker, 1997; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Latino children are at increased risk of substandard literacy outcomes, due to their disproportionate prevalence of childhood poverty in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000), in addition to the challenges faced from second language acquisition (Vernon Feagans, Scheffner Hammer, Miccio, & Manlove, 2002), institutional racism (Delpit, 1995), their parents' poor language skills (Moss & Puma, 1995), and improper placement and assessment (Crawford, 1997; Garcia, 1991). As a result, children from Latino backgrounds have been shown to lag behind their non-Latino classmates in acquiring literacy skills, a gap that continues through elementary and middle school (Vernon Feagans et al., 2002).

Despite the evidence suggesting the importance of improving literacy outcomes for low-income and Latino children, evidence concerning the effectiveness of the Even Start program, and specifically of home-visiting and bilingual education interventions (the approach taken by the Manchester Even Start program), is mixed. The second national Even Start evaluation found "credible evidence that children who continue to participate in Even Start make greater gains than one might anticipate based on age or development alone" (Tao, Gamse, & Tarr, 1998, pp. 152-153). However, the third national Even Start evaluation found that children of families randomly assigned to the Even Start program showed no greater literacy improvement on a variety of measures than children of families randomly assigned to a control group (St. Pierre et al., 2003).

The effectiveness of home-visiting programs in improving early childhood development and improving literacy skills has been assessed in a number 0f recent large-scale evaluations. …