USAID has been making efforts to build early reading programs in national languages in numerous countries over the past ten years. It is important to remember that characteristics of a resilient nation include citizens who are “safer, healthier, and better educated than previous generations” (National Academies, 2012).
With reading levels in many countries showing low percentages of students with proficiency by third grade, thus hindering their ability to then read to learn as they age up in school and thereby also contributing to dropout rates, attention to building early reading skills has received significant attention. With early grade reading programs, USAID aims to increase the number of students who successfully learn to read by first learning to read in a language the child speaks and understands, which then gives the child critical skills that can be transferred to second and third languages in their schools and contexts.
EdIntersect LLC, a woman-owned small business and international development consulting firm is currently working with two such USAID programs on useful and innovative evaluation approaches grounded in USAID research toolkits, responsive to national government needs in each context, and enhanced by the expertise of the EdIntersect team of researchers, educators, linguists, inclusion and gender specialists, trainers, and technologists. The USAID Lecture Pour Tous (Reading for All) program has been working in Senegal since the beginning of 2017 to build a national early reading program in three national languages (Wolof, Pulaar, and Seereer), to achieve reading proficiency of students in grades 1 and 2.
Similarly, in Rwanda, with the Soma Umenye (Read and Understand) program, USAID is working with the Government of Rwanda to continue a reading program in the national language of Kinyarwanda; Both projects include work with units of the education ministries to develop strong systems that will support these national reading programs and be informed by monitoring, evaluation, and learning approaches that can result in strengthening teacher training and materials development and ultimately improve student outcomes.
As an example of its evaluation work, EdIntersect worked closely with the monitoring and evaluation team of Lecture Pour Tous and Senegal Ministry of Education (MEN) colleagues to facilitate the development of research tools for students, teachers, and school directors, then the training of assessors, ahead of data collection in schools in six regions of Senegal. In October 2017, EdIntersect, together with the Research Institute of the Ministry of Education (INEADE) and Lecture Pour Tous evaluation colleagues, presented findings to USAID Senegal and to MEN representatives from six regions of the country.
The Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) baseline study in Senegal was used to investigate levels of reading competencies among students in Grades 1 and 2 in a sample of schools that will participate in the reading program in Wolof, Pulaar, and Seereer. The goal of the baseline study was to gain an evidence-based understanding of the status of the level of competency in reading in three national languages and the factors that could affect reading performance, and in particular serve as the means to measure the indicator of the program’s highest outcome level: the percentage of students who, by the end of two grades of primary schooling, demonstrate that they can read and understand the meaning of grade-level text.
While also working on gender and inclusion planning and on ICT strategy for the Senegal project, provides technical leadership on evaluation studies for the early reading project in Senegal. With the benefit of working in two different countries on early grade reading programs, EdIntersect can transfer various areas of knowledge and frameworks from one to another.
For example, to establish a metric to guide the development of assessment items for this type of project, EdIntersect worked with the partners on the project, field office team members, and Rwanda Education Board colleagues to determine guidance for letter sound, syllable sound, word reading, reading passages, reading comprehension questions, and listening comprehension passages. This approach has taken the national reading program’s precision in assessment to a new level.
EdIntersect is now taking this approach to the project in Senegal where a similar process will be followed to develop metrics for assessment items for each of the three national languages used for early reading instruction under the project.
These steps have a learning perspective that takes into consideration the different needs for assessment across the project, but most importantly the ministry’s need to understand their evaluation results over time in early grade reading programs. These new metrics have proven quite effective in recent data collection and analysis in Rwanda and will be a step in Senegal, where the national reading program in national languages has only just begun, for meta-analysis and revisiting where the assessment thresholds should be for reading skills in grades 1 and 2.
In 2013, Dr. Mary Faith Mount-Cors founded EdIntersect with the goal of working in education and its intersections to improve the effectiveness of development programs. EdIntersect brings a lens of intersectionality to its work – the combination of factors of gender, ethnic group, socioeconomic status, urban/rural, disability, and other axes of identity – and is attentive to points of sectoral intersection, such as education and health. The company, based in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, employs innovative research approaches to inform and improve program development, to help systems within communities, schools, and governments achieve sustained development, and to improve the education outcomes and the lives of girls, boys, women, and men. EdIntersect’s work ranges from early education to adolescence to teachers and adult learners, with a unique approach that comes with a commitment to gender equality and inclusion and the promise of improved results when truly integrating these transformative approaches into development.