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An innovative literacy program in northern Florida helped substantially raise early literacy scores of nearly 200 pre-Kindergarten children. The Nemours BrightStart! program, implemented in nearly 60 classrooms in Florida’s Duval County Public School District, builds on the growing national recognition of the importance of early childhood education and demonstrates the impact of targeted, developmentally appropriate interventions for the young learners. The results of the program were published in a report released today.
At the start of the 2012-2013 school year, 196 children were enrolled in the Nemours BrightStart! small-group enrichment reading program in their public school classrooms, after scoring substantially below benchmark on a nationally-recognized reading readiness screening, with an average score of 7.59 (a score of less than 10 indicates weak skills at the start of the pre-K year). Peers in the non-enrichment group had an average score of 14.25, nearly double the scores of the at-risk students. By the end of the program, the Nemours BrightStart! intervention closed the achievement gap noted from the start of the year, with a nearly 125 percent gain in reading abilities by kids who received the instruction compared to the 32 percent gain by their peers who did not receive the instruction.
“We need to start recognizing that each child is an individual learner with distinct needs, but also substantial learning capabilities,” said Laura Bailet, PhD, executive director of Nemours BrightStart! “This starts by giving early childhood educators developmentally appropriate, evidence-based curriculum tools that build in strategies for children who learn in diverse ways and set them on a path to reading.”
The 20-hour intervention consisted of scripted, carefully planned, multi-sensory instruction provided by classroom teachers to promote skills like phonological awareness and alphabet knowledge that set the foundation for reading. The program aims to engage children who learn in diverse ways as the interactive curriculum stimulates participants to use all of their senses in the learning experience, and has been proven effective in rigorous published research. It also uses a unique approach to target children before they enter kindergarten, as research shows students who have strong reading readiness skills excel in reading when they enter K-12 school systems.
Early reading failure can disrupt a child’s development in academic, cognitive, social, behavioral and emotional areas. Up to 40 percent of students entering kindergarten struggle with learning to read. Many children are at risk for reading failure due to brain processing difficulties, a history of speech and language delays, having parents or siblings who have struggled with reading, and/or attention problems. Without intervention, deficits in early literacy can lead to reading challenges or even reading failure later on.
“We’ve seen so far that kids who go to kindergarten ready to read are ready to learn. It’s an investment that makes sense and helps set the foundation for academic success,” said Nikolai Vitti, Ed.D., superintendent of Duval County Public Schools. “Nemours BrightStart! shows the positive effect of a strong reading readiness curriculum combined with committed teachers and a proactive school system. By screening and intervening early, we’re giving these kids a chance to thrive, and they’re taking it.”
Within Florida, Nemours BrightStart! has screened over 13,000 children for reading readiness and provided more than 3,000 students with intervention from the program. Nationwide, the program has trained over 500 classroom teachers to screen their own students and use the Nemours BrightStart! enrichment curriculum for those needing extra help. As a result, thousands of children are far better prepared for reading; more than two-thirds of the students who received instruction from the Nemours BrightStart! program saw their at-risk reading levels rise to average or above-average.