The Let’s Begin with the Letter People® study was conducted with children from six full-day
Head Start centers in southeastern New York state (four centers in Year 1; one additional center
in Year 2; and one additional center in Year 3) during the 2001–02, 2002–03, and 2003–04
school years. All centers were part of the same Head Start grantee.
This randomized controlled study included three groups: Let’s Begin with the Letter People®,
the Waterford Early Reading™ Level One, and a comparison group. Preschool classrooms in
six centers were randomly assigned to one of the two curricular approaches overlaid onto their
standard curriculum (High/Scope® Educational Approach), or to a business-as-usual comparison
group that used only the High/Scope® Educational Approach over 3 years of the study.
In Year 1 of the study, nine classrooms participated, with three classrooms assigned to each
group. In Year 2, 15 classrooms participated in the study, with five in each group. In Year 3,
11 classrooms participated, with four in each intervention group and three in the comparison
group. In Years 2 and 3, some teachers from the intervention groups were randomly selected
to continue in the study (remaining in that curriculum group), some teachers from the comparison
group could opt for random assignment to one of the intervention groups, and some new
teachers were randomly assigned to fill out the study groups.
Data from all three study years were analyzed together, yielding a sample of 35 study classrooms
(12 Let’s Begin with the Letter People® classrooms, 12 Waterford Early Reading™ Level
One classrooms, and 11 comparison classrooms). Thus, although the study used a randomized
controlled trial design to assign classrooms to intervention or comparison groups, the
study included some classrooms randomly assigned with unequal probabilities of assignment
not accounted for in the analysis. As a result, the study must demonstrate baseline equivalence
between the intervention and comparison group samples of children used in the analysis
of outcomes. An author query was conducted to obtain the study data necessary to establish
equivalence at baseline for the outcome measures (i.e., unadjusted means and standard
deviations of the outcome measures for the intervention and comparison groups). Baseline
equivalence was established from the data provided by the study authors.
A total of 507 children participated in the study across all three conditions over the 3 years of
the study. Children in the study sample had a mean age of 4 years, 4 months at the time of
pretest. The sample of children included African-American (42%), Hispanic (41%), multiracial
(8%), Caucasian (7%), and other race/ethnicity (2%). Approximately 14% of the sample were Spanish-language dominant at Head Start entry. The evaluation of Let’s Begin with the Letter
People® included 21 of the 35 study classrooms, and the analysis sample included 336 children
(186 Let’s Begin with the Letter People® and 150 comparison).
The intervention group classrooms used the Let’s Begin with the Letter People® curriculum
overlaid onto the existing High/Scope® curriculum, which all programs had used for at least 10
years before the study. Teachers incorporated the activities, lessons, and materials from Let’s
Begin with the Letter People® into their daily classroom instruction, while continuing to follow
the High/Scope® curriculum. Let’s Begin with the Letter People® also includes take-home
activity sheets designed to be completed with the help of an adult; however, the study did not
assess the degree to which parents engaged their children in these activities.
A second intervention group was assigned to the Waterford Early Reading™ Level One curriculum;
the effects of this intervention on the study sample are not discussed in this report.
The business-as-usual comparison group classrooms used the standard classroom curriculum
(High/Scope®), which prescribes a daily routine (planning time, work time, cleanup time, time
for recall, large-group time, small-group time, and outdoor play) and aligns with Head Start’s
performance standards, focusing on language, literacy, and other school readiness skills, such
as numeracy, reasoning, problem solving, and decision making.
The outcome domains assessed were children’s oral language and print knowledge. Oral language
was assessed with the PPVT-III. Print knowledge was assessed with five measures: the
WJ-R Letter-Word Identification and Dictation subtests, the Letter Knowledge and Print Conventions
subtests of the storybook assessment developed for the Head Start FACES study,
and the GRTR screening instrument. Spanish-language dominant children were excluded
by the authors from analyses involving the WJ-R Dictation subtest, as these children did not
receive the English-language version of this measure at pretest. For the GRTR, Letter Knowledge,
and Print Conventions assessments, the pretest administration for Spanish-language
dominant children used Spanish instructions, with assessment questions administered in
English. Pretests were administered in October/November, and posttests in May/June, corresponding to the Head Start academic year. For a more detailed description of these outcome
measures, see Appendix B.
Support for implementation
Teachers and teacher assistants in the Let’s Begin with the Letter People® group participated
in a 3-day curriculum training each August conducted by a professional trainer from Abrams &
Company (the developer and distributor of this curriculum). The trainer visited each classroom
in the Let’s Begin with the Letter People® condition in the fall and spring of each intervention
year and provided individual feedback to teachers. Fidelity was measured during these visits
using a checklist to assess the degree of implementation in two domains: classroom organization
and teacher behavior. Implementation by all teachers in each year of the study was
determined to be accurate and appropriate. Fischel et al. (2007) reported that additional training
was offered by the trainer; however, details of the frequency, content, or degree of participation
in these trainings were not provided. Teachers and assistants in the Let’s Begin with the
Letter People® group and the business-as-usual comparison group participated in a weeklong
in-service High/Scope® curriculum training at the beginning of the school year. Support
was provided in the classroom by educational and child development specialists throughout
the school year.