Families that were assigned to Even Start participated in the program at whatever levels of intensity and for whatever duration they desired. Families assigned to the control group were not allowed to participate in Even Start for one year. However, during that year they took part in any other educational and social programs for which they qualified and sought out. After the one-year period, control families were eligible to enroll in Even Start, and some families in some EDS projects did so—25 control group families (from the total of 154) reported that they participated in Even Start between the posttest and follow-up measurement. These families were retained in the control group for all of the analyses reported in this document. We conducted a separate set of analyses excluding control families that reported participating in Even Start after the one-year period, and the analysis results were unchanged.
Parent Report of Instructional Services Received. The EDS parent interview included questions about the kinds of educational and social services in which families participated between pretest and posttest, and between posttest and follow-up. If Even Start families were participating fully in the program, and if parent report was a completely reliable measure, then the parent interview data ought to show us that very high percentages of Even Start families participate in each instructional service. This is not the case, as is demonstrated in Table 3.8 which shows the percentage of parents that reported participating in each instructional service between pretest and posttest, and between posttest and follow-up. Fewer Even Start families reported that they participated in early childhood education (57% vs. 72%), parenting education (17% vs. 28%), and adult education (40% vs. 59%) at the follow-up than at the posttest. This is a reasonable trend, given that Even Start families leave the program over time. However, the absolute percentages are quite low, given that all Even Start families are supposed to be participating in each of these instructional services.
A greater percentage of control parents reported participating in early childhood education (44% vs. 32%), parenting education (20% vs. 17%), and adult education (32% vs. 29%) at the follow-up than at the posttest. These increases make sense, since a small percentage of control parents reported that they joined Even Start after the posttest. In addition, more Even Start and control children participated in Head Start, kindergarten, and primary school at the follow-up than at the posttest. This is most likely a result of the increasing age of the children in both the Even Start and control groups (average child age was 3.2 years at pretest, 4.0 years at the posttest, and 4.9 years at the follow-up).
At the posttest, significantly more Even Start parents than control parents reported that their children participated in early childhood education (72% vs. 32%), and that they participated in adult education (59% vs. 29%) and in parenting education (28% vs. 17%). By the follow-up, significantly more Even Start parents than control parents still reported that their children participated in early childhood education (57% vs. 44%), and roughly equal percentages of Even Start and control parents reported participating in adult education (40% vs. 32%) and parenting education (17% vs. 20%).
Although the data reported above show that significantly more Even Start families than control families participated in instructional services, the participation rates for the two groups are not nearly as different as might be expected, indicating both that Even Start families did not participate fully in the program, and that control families were able to find competing instructional services. Thus, in order for Even Start families to perform better than control families on literacy-related outcome measures, the instructional services in which Even Start families participated would have to be much more effective than the instructional services in which control group families participated. This is unlikely since many Even Start projects build on instructional services that already exist in the community—the same services in which control group parents and children may have been participating.
Teacher Reports of Classroom Activities. Teachers of Even Start and control children who were in center-based preschool or kindergarten settings were asked to report on the kinds of classroom activities that were available to children on a daily or almost daily basis. As was the case at the posttest (St.Pierre, Ricciuti, Tao et al, 2003), the classrooms in which Even Start and control children participated were very similar with regard to literacy-related activities (Table 3.9). Almost all Even Start children in center-based classrooms had many different kinds of literacy-related activities available to them on a daily or almost daily basis including number concepts or counting (96%), letters of the alphabet or words (92%), and reading stories (98%). Almost the same percentages of children in control classrooms were offered these literacy-related activities. At the follow-up, children in Even Start classrooms were more likely than control children to work on naming colors, and solving puzzles or working with geometric forms. Thus, teacher reports show few differences between the classroom experiences received by Even Start and control children.
Length of Participation in Even Start. As described by St.Pierre, Ricciuti, Tao et al (2003), about one-third of the families that were randomly assigned to Even Start never participated enough to make it through Even Start's period of preparation (a time in which families can try out the program without being officially enrolled) and hence be included in the national ESPIRS data collection system. For the remaining families, ESPIRS participation data showed that about 50% of Even Start families in the EDS participated in instructional services for 8 or fewer months between the pretest and posttest, while the other 50% participated for more than 8 months (out of a maximum of 12 months). Follow-up participation data2 showed that when given the opportunity to participate for up to 24 months, about half (48%) of the Even Start families participated for 10 or fewer months and half (52%) participated for more than 10 months (Figure 3.2). Thus, the additional available year of instructional services resulted in only a couple of additional months of participation for the average Even Start EDS family.