2013 Freedom School evaluation report documents impact on Charlotte area youth

Date Published: 
Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Center for Adolescent Literacies at UNC Charlotte has just released the Freedom School Partners Children's Defense Fund Freedom Schools© Program Summer 2013 Evaluation Report. Findings from this evaluation document positive impact on the reading ability of most of the youth (Scholars) who participate in Freedom Schools.

Created by the Children’s Defense Fund, the Freedom Schools program engages children in grades K-12 in a six week summer program designed to prevent the “learning loss” that students (known as Scholars in the program) typically experience over the months when school is not in session, as well as to have a positive impact on children’s character development, leadership, and community involvement. The CDF Freedom Schools program provides enrichment with the stated goals of “helping children fall in love with reading, increase[ing] their self-esteem, and generate[ing] more positive attitudes toward learning.” In the Summer, 2013, there were approximately 11,500 Scholars in Freedom School programs in 96 cities and 29 states including Washington D.C. Research shows that the impact of summer learning loss is significant among children in poverty. This deficit is so pronounced that Allington and McGill-Franzen (2003) dub summer reading loss as a “smoking gun” issue in education.Their research has reported that the cumulative effects of summer reading loss can mean that struggling readers entering middle school may lag two years behind peers in their ability to read.

The evaluation conducted by the Center for Adolescent Literacies included a pretest-posttest design using only an intervention group (i.e., children who were exposed to the Freedom School Program). This design allowed investigators to measure change in reading performance from the start of the program to the end using the Basic Reading Inventory (BRI; Johns, 2008). The BRI is an individually administered reading inventory with multiple measures used to assess facets of reading. For this evaluation, the research team used Form A (pretest) and Form B (posttest). Forms A and B are equivalent measures used to assess students’ oral reading across three subtests: the Graded Word List (GWL), Graded Reading Passages, and Oral Reading Comprehension questions that accompany each passage. The BRI is an appropriate assessment that provides flexibility in diverse educational settings that emphasize literacy (Nilsson, 2008).

Pre- and post-test data was collected on 185 Scholars. Based on an analysis of the data, the results indicate that the vast majority of Scholar benefitted from participation in the program. Specifically, the researchers found that, on average, Scholars tended to improve from pretest to posttest. The results also indicate that over half of the Scholars improved from pretest to posttest. One measure the BRI yields is a Frustration or ceiling reading score, which is the point at which the Scholar could no longer continue with the test because he/she reached his/her threshold. In 2013, 61.7% of Scholars who participated in the pre- and post-assessment show improvements in their Frustration level reading scores on the BRI while 28.7% maintained and 9.6% of Scholars showed modest declines. Growth was more pronounced among Level II and Level III Scholars (older students in 3rd through 8th grades) with more improvement shown on the BRI.

This report, submitted by the Center for Adolescent Literacies at UNC Charlotte, is the fifth program evaluation of Freedom School Partners’ Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® programs in Charlotte, North Carolina. This work began in 2009 with a two-site pilot study followed by a 10-site study in 2010, and 15-site study in 2011, and 10 site evaluations in 2012 and 2013. This evaluation examines the program’s effect on the reading performance of students served by Freedom School Partners in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the summer of 2013. The data and findings presented in this report were collected from 10 of the 19 Freedom School sites in Charlotte in June and July 2013.

Freedom School sites in Charlotte range in size from 50 to 100 scholars and operate five days a week, from 8:00 to 3:00 p.m. Freedom School programs are offered at no charge to participating families. The Scholars are grouped by grade levels with Level I Scholars having just completed Kindergarten, first or second grade. Level II Scholars come from grades three through five and Level III Scholars from grades six through eight. A Level IV program for high school students was piloted at one site in 2013.

The report was conducted by Dr. Bruce Taylor, Director of the Center for Adolescent Literacies at UNC Charlotte, Dr. Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo, a postdoctoral fellow at UNC Chapel Hill in the School of Medicine, and Dr. Crystal Glover, a Clinical Assistant Professor at UNC Charlotte. A second evaluation was conducted by the Center for Adolescent Literacies during the summer 2013 by Dr. Adriana Medina of the Center for Adolescent Literacies at UNC  Charlotte. This evaluation of a new Level IV program for high school students, which was piloted at one site, is shared in a separate report to be released in November, 2013. In addition to this evaluation research, the Center is currently conducting research on college-age interns to learn about their experiences serving in the program.

The Freedom School Partners Children's Defense Fund Freedom Schools© Program Summer 2013 Evaluation Report can be downloaded from the Research & Scholarship page of the Center's website.