The study took place in a large, urban school district.
Three general Kindergarten teachers and two transition teachers (of children repeating Kindergarten) agreed to participate. The two transition teachers were randomly assigned to treatment or control conditions. The three regular classroom teachers were not randomly assigned to the treatment or comparison condition. Students were matched by type of classroom (general or repeating Kindergarteners). In the combined analysis 42 students from three classrooms were in the intervention group and 24 students from two classrooms were in the comparison group.2 Intervention and comparison students had comparable performance on pretests. The ethnic distribution in the school district, reflected in the composition of three general classes, was 52% African-American, 46% Caucasian, and 2% other ethnicities. The distribution in the transition
classrooms was 65% African-American, 25% Caucasian, and 10% other ethnicities. Transition classes for children who repeat Kindergarten had reduced class sizes (12 to 15 students compared to 21 to 25 students in the regular Kindergartens). Longitudinal findings at the end of first grade are presented in Appendix A4.3.
The intervention was a supplement to a normal pre-reading instruction. Children in three intervention classes were given twenty-five Ladders to Literacy activities over the 6-month intervention period. In the first two months activities stimulated word and syllable awareness. The third and fourth months focused on rhyming, first sound isolation, and onset-rime level blending and segmenting. Letters and sounds were added to phonological activities in the final two months, when children were shown how to use a letter sound to match pictures that start the same. At this point the auditory blending games became more sophisticated, separating each spoken phoneme. In the two general Kindergartens, teachers conducted these activities in short sessions (5 to 15 minutes long) with their whole group of 21 to 25 students. In the transition class, the teachers and assistants usually conducted activities in smaller groups of 3 to 6 students.
Children in two comparison classes received the same district-wide pre-reading curriculum as the intervention group. They did not practice auditory blending, segmenting words beyond the first letter, or selecting letters to represent sounds. The comparison transition class included finger-point reading of Big Books in addition to the general curriculum.
For both pretest and posttest, the authors administered the Peabody Picture Vocabulary test, the Letter-Word Identification subtest of the Woodcock-Johnson Test of Achievement,
and also Rhyme Production, Segmenting, Blending, First Sound, Sound Repetition, and Rapid Letter Naming tests. For the follow-up tests conducted at the end of first grade, the authors administered a segmentation measure and the Word Attack and Word Identification subtests of the Woodcock Johnson Test of Achievement. The Dictation subtest of the Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement and Test of Written Spelling were also used in the study but are not included because they are outside the scope of this Beginning Reading review. (See Appendices A2.1–2.3 for more detailed descriptions of outcome measures.)
Support for implementation
Teachers in the intervention condition received 10 in-service training sessions spaced over the school year. Sessions reviewed materials, discussed the conceptual basis for each activity, and offered practical suggestions for incorporating activities into the class routines and feedback on implementation of earlier activities. Bi-weekly visits from the study authors extended teacher training by addressing particular classroom concerns, modifying activities, and monitoring program implementation.