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H. Shamir, K. Feehan, E. Yoder

Waterford Research Institute (UNITED STATES)
Individual differences in the early acquisition of vocabulary affect literacy growth and academic achievement for years to come (Duff, Tomblin, & Catts, 2015). Because of these differences, an early achievement gap emerges between lower and higher academically achieving children, creating a need for individualized educational programs that target students of all demographics (Penuel, Pasnik, Bates, Townsend, Gallagher, Llorente, & Hupert, 2009).

A potential solution to the achievement gap is incorporating technology into the classroom: Computer-assisted instruction (CAI) is the presentation of different forms of educational media material in an interactive, instructional way. The Waterford Early Reading Program (ERP) is a CAI program that offers a comprehensive, computer-adaptive pre-reading and reading curriculum for pre-kindergarten through second grade students. The use of CAI in schools is found to improve reading comprehension effectively when combined with traditional classroom reading instruction (Falth Gustafson, Tjus, Heimann, & Svensson, 2013), but not consistently so (Kitchen & Berk, 2016); further research is needed to investigate the impact of CAI incorporated into an existing elementary curriculum.

The Volusia Literacy Test (VLT) was administered to 6,131 Florida students to assess reading skills across multiple strands. Students were expected to use ERP five days per week for fifteen or thirty minutes per day, based on their grade level, throughout the 2015-2016 school year. Students in the experimental group had high usage of ERP, and students in the control group had low usage of ERP. The purpose of the study was to evaluate the effectiveness of ERP in improving early literacy skills of kindergarten through second grade students.

Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade experimental students significantly outperformed control students on end of year VLT scores. Further analysis on demographics revealed that ELL students in the experimental group outperformed students in the control group on all strands in kindergarten and second grade. Additionally, for all cases with a large enough sample size, experimental students of all ethnicities outperformed control students in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, contributing to research relating to reducing the achievement gap in early learners. Overall, these findings suggest that CAI programs, specifically ERP, can improve early literacy skills of students from all backgrounds when incorporated into classrooms.