Chicago Public Schools Evaluate Teaching Methods The Chicago Public Schools System is evaluating four approaches to teaching language and literacy skills this school year. Preschoolers (ages 3–5) enrolled in the Head Start programs at eight of its schools are participating in a unique, year-long research project called the Language and Literacy Enrichment Teaching (LET) Program, which ... School Matters
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School Matters  |   May 01, 2006
Chicago Public Schools Evaluate Teaching Methods
Author Notes
  • Patricia J. Miller Gardner, is the project manager for ASHA’s Communication Sciences and Disorders Clinical Trials Research Group clinical trials. For information on the LET Program or clinical trials at ASHA, contact her by e-mail at pgardner@asha.org.
    Patricia J. Miller Gardner, is the project manager for ASHA’s Communication Sciences and Disorders Clinical Trials Research Group clinical trials. For information on the LET Program or clinical trials at ASHA, contact her by e-mail at pgardner@asha.org.×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / School Matters
School Matters   |   May 01, 2006
Chicago Public Schools Evaluate Teaching Methods
The ASHA Leader, May 2006, Vol. 11, 18-19. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM3.11062006.18
The ASHA Leader, May 2006, Vol. 11, 18-19. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM3.11062006.18
The Chicago Public Schools System is evaluating four approaches to teaching language and literacy skills this school year. Preschoolers (ages 3–5) enrolled in the Head Start programs at eight of its schools are participating in a unique, year-long research project called the Language and Literacy Enrichment Teaching (LET) Program, which is funded by the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust. Based on the data obtained from LET, CPS hopes to determine which of the four language-learning techniques best provides its preschoolers with the skills they need to learn to read and achieve in kindergarten and beyond.
The architects of LET are Chicago-based Leap Learning Systems, Inc. and ASHA’s Communication Sciences and Disorders Clinical Trials Research Group (CSDRG). Leap is an educational, nonprofit organization with almost two decades of experience in developing and implementing language/literacy infusion and professional-development training programs for children and educators. Its staff of speech-language pathologists is working on-site at the schools to implement LET. The CSDRG is the data center for the program.
Helping Children Learn Language
LET is a randomized clinical trial being conducted in Chicago’s public schools, and by necessity, it’s a community-based research initiative. Children are considered an especially vulnerable research population, as are members of ethnic minority groups. More than 97% of the children and families involved in LET are African Americans and all of them qualify for free or reduced school lunches.
Research shows that children are most at risk for reading failure when they have limited exposure to language, and that children from low-income families, such as those participating in LET, are particularly at risk, according to testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce (1997). By age 4, a child from a low-income family will have heard a total of 13 million words, compared to the 26 million words heard by children from working-class families and the 45 million words heard by those from professional families. Moreover, the actual words that a child from a low-income family hears tend to be the most commonly occurring words (Hart & Risley, 1995). By the time that child sets foot in the classroom, his or her spoken vocabulary is significantly less than that of more affluent peers.
Research also shows that literacy is a good predictor of a child’s success in school and in the workforce. According to the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy, the literacy skill levels were lowest for adults who did not complete high school, and highest for those who pursued education after obtaining a high school degree (see sidebar for more statistics from this report). Moreover, 56% of the adults with the lowest literacy level were either not in the workforce (51%) or unemployed (5%), according to the U.S. Department of Education (2003).
Against this backdrop, LET attempts to level the playing field for its preschool participants. A critical part of LET is teacher participation. Eighteen hours of professional development training are being offered to the teachers and their aides. During these sessions, teachers and aides will learn about current best-practice techniques to help children learn new vocabulary words during classroom reading and pre-writing activities, as well as other techniques to help prepare the children for kindergarten. LET also makes lending libraries available in each classroom. In a few randomly selected classrooms, Leap’s staff will provide teachers with more extensive training and mentoring.
A Community-Based Initiative
Leap has made every effort to obtain and successfully maintain the support of the school administration, school principals, teachers, and families of the students. “Pulling together a major research project with any public school system is a significant challenge in itself,” said Perry Gunn, Leap’s executive director. “The community support for this project has been unprecedented. All but two families [of 346] have chosen to participate and we’ve forged strong alliances with teachers, parents, and administrators.”
At the outset, Leap needed to convince school administrators that LET could provide them with data to evaluate properly the four teaching models being used in the program, one of which is based on the Chicago public school curriculum and three others, one based on Leap’s curriculum, and two other computer-based programs which use public school and Leap curricula.
“We needed to implement replicable language and pre-literacy programs that were mindful of the needs of the school system, such as costs and professional development training for teachers,” said John Lybolt, Leap’s research director. “Our outcomes had to be meaningful to the lives of the teachers, parents, and children we serve. As such, Leap has paired the use of standardized assessments of children with much needed continuous classroom monitoring and assistance in curriculum development.”
Once the school system approved LET, Leap sent letters to the principals of every school with a Head Start program and all Head Start teachers and teacher’s aides informing them about LET and inviting them to participate. Leap staff also worked closely with Barbara Bowman, Chicago Public Schools chief staff officer for Early Childhood Education, to address any concerns held by the principals, teachers, and their aides. In the end, eight schools with a total of 24 Head Start teachers and aides agreed to participate in LET. The schools then were randomized to one of the four classroom interventions.
In September 2005, when the families of preschoolers arrived to enroll their children in these Head Start programs, they were greeted not only by the teachers, but also by Leap representatives. The teachers and the Leap staff met with the parents and explained what LET was, how participation in the program would affect them and their children, and how the school system and Leap intended to use the data obtained on their children. More than 99% of the families signed up to participate.
LET demonstrates that SLPs have the knowledge and training to be effective community and academic partners in promoting emergent literacy skills. The program should enable Chicago public schools to determine the most effective professional development program formats, meeting the needs of teachers, parents, and children.
Literacy Skill Levels for American Adults

The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) defines literacy as “using printed and written information to function in society to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” The NAAL measured the English literacy skill levels of adults 16 years or older living in the United States. According to the NAAL:

  • 11 million adults (5%) are non-literate in English. Another 2% could not be tested due to language barriers, i.e., they spoke neither English nor Spanish, and 3% scored poorly on the easiest test questions.

  • 30 million adults (14%) function at the lowest literacy skill level (Below Basic). These Americans can perform only simple and concrete literacy tasks such as reading simple text to find out what they could drink before a medical test or sign a form.

  • 63 million adults (29%) function at the Basic literacy skill level, meaning they can read and understand simple prose text, use a TV guide to find out what programs are on at a given time and compare ticket prices for two events.

  • 59% of adults scoring at the Below Basic literacy skill level for prose were either Hispanic (39%) or African American (20%). Each ethnic group represents 12% of the total NAAL population.

  • 60% of adults who scored at the Below Basic literacy skill level for prose did not complete high school.

  • 56% of the adults scoring at the Below Basic level were either not in the workforce (51%) or unemployed (5%).

  • Adults in the 65-or-older age group have the lowest average literacy skill level of all NAAL age groups. They also account for the largest percentage of adults with Below Basic literacy skills.

Visit the National Center for Education Statistics Web site for information about the NAAL report and key findings.

References
Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.×
Kutner, M., Greenberg, E., & Baer, J. (2005). National assessment of adult literacy: A first look the literacy of America’s adults in the 21st century. (NCES 2006-470). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Kutner, M., Greenberg, E., & Baer, J. (2005). National assessment of adult literacy: A first look the literacy of America’s adults in the 21st century. (NCES 2006-470). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.×
Why Children Can’t Read: Hearing Before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, 105th Cong., 2nd Sess. (July 10, 1997) (testimony of G. Reid Lyon). Retrieved Feb. 3, 2006, from http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/edu/hedcew5-53.000/hedcew5-53.htm.
Why Children Can’t Read: Hearing Before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, 105th Cong., 2nd Sess. (July 10, 1997) (testimony of G. Reid Lyon). Retrieved Feb. 3, 2006, from http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/edu/hedcew5-53.000/hedcew5-53.htm.×
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May 2006
Volume 11, Issue 6