The study took place in four Title I and four non-Title I schools in the Nashville public school system.
Thirty-three teachers were stratified and then randomly assigned to three conditions: Ladders to Literacy, Ladders to Literacy plus Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS),
and a comparison condition. Students were selected to participate based on the Rapid Letter Naming test and student names were presented to teachers for their review
and adjustment. For rating purposes, the WWC focused on the 11 teachers with 136 students that were in the Ladders to Literacy treatment group and 11 teachers with
135 students that were in the comparison group. Students in both conditions were also compared longitudinally and in terms of varying levels of reading performance (high, medium, and low) in fall of first grade.
Children in the intervention classes received their typical pre-reading instruction and were given 15 Ladders to Literacy activities for a maximum of 45 minutes a week for
twenty weeks. These activities included word and syllable awareness, rhyming, first sound isolation, onset-rhyme blending, sound segmentation, journal writing, “letter sound
of the week,” “morning message,” nursery rhymes and poems, and shared storybook reading. Only three of the activities presented students with printed letters.
Students in the Ladders to Literacy plus PALS classes participated in a 20-week phonological awareness training and beginning decoding curriculum. The PALS component,
which was implemented for 16 weeks, required children to work in pairs with peers of their own ages. The PALS activities focused on the correct sounds of letters and required
children to read aloud sight words, decodable words, and simple sentences.
Students in the comparison classes received their regular whole-class reading instruction. Nearly two-thirds of teachers used the school district’s formally adopted text: the
Harcourt-Brace Treasury of Literature: First Street Collection for Kindergarten. A majority of the teachers used First Street’s Big Books, and about half of the teachers reported
using High Hat. A majority of comparison teachers taught alphabet letter naming.
For both pretest and posttest, the authors administered two subtests of the Woodcock Reading Mastery test (Word Identification and Word Attack), a rapid letter sound test, and a segmentation task. At posttest, the authors also administered a blending task. All these tests were also used during follow-up testing which occurred in the fall of first grade. The Spelling subtest of the Wechsler Individual Achievement test was also used in the study but is not included because it is outside the scope of this Beginning Reading review. (See Appendix A2.1–2.3 for more detailed descriptions of outcome measures.)
Support for implementation
Intervention teachers attended a full-day workshop that included discussion of phonological awareness tasks and description of the 15 Ladders to Literacy activities that teachers were asked to implement. Ladders to Literacy and PALS teachers attended an additional half-day workshop to prepare their students in PALS.