Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: July 26th, 2021

Report links higher scores to Baby Raven Reads program

A research firm has produced a study that links an upward trend in scores for local Alaska Native students entering kindergarten to Baby Raven Reads, an early literacy program operated by Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) since the 2015-2016 school year.

The report, Baby Raven Reads Impacts on Kindergarten Readiness, by the Alaska firm McKinley Research Group (formerly McDowell Group) found significant progress in early literacy skills among SHI’s Baby Raven Reads participants, who range in age from birth to age 5. That increase mirrors assessments compiled through the state’s Alaska Developmental Profile (ADP), which measures a child’s kindergarten-readiness.

“These findings show significant progress in early literacy skills and, thus, kindergarten readiness among Baby Raven Reads participants. They also suggest Baby Raven Reads is a likely contributor to the increase in ADP scores among Alaska Native children in Juneau,” the report found.

The McKinley report focused on changes in ADP results for Alaska Native students in Juneau from 2014-2015 — before Baby Raven Reads began — through 2019-2020. Analysis was supplemented by evaluation data for Baby Raven Reads to further understand the program’s contributions toward ADP findings.

The report specifically focused on three of 13 areas analyzed by the ADP that were most closely associated with the goals of Baby Raven Reads: phonological awareness, awareness of print concepts and knowledge of letters and symbols (alphabet knowledge). 

ADP Assessments

Since Baby Raven Reads began, ADP data indicates that scores improved significantly for Juneau School District students who qualify for the Indian Studies Program, most of whom are Alaska Native (multi-ethnic students may also qualify). During the same period, ADP scores for all other students remained relatively static, the McKinley report found.

  • In 2014-2015, 25 percent of Alaska Native students consistently demonstrated phonetic knowledge compared to 52 percent of all other students, a 27 percent difference. By 2019-2020 — five years after the launch of Baby Raven Reads — 45 percent of Alaska Native students consistently demonstrated phonetic knowledge. Thus, the number of Alaska Native students consistently demonstrating phonetic awareness increased by 20 percent from 2014-2015 to 2019-2020, according to ADP results. During this time, the proportion of non-Alaska Native students consistently demonstrating phonetic knowledge decreased by 5 percent.
  • In 2014-2015, 27 percent of Alaska Native students consistently demonstrated awareness of print concepts, compared to 56 percent of all other students, a 29 percent difference. In 2019-2020, 33 percent of Alaska Native students consistently demonstrated awareness of print concepts, an increase of 6 percent since 2014-2015. During that period, scores for non-Alaska Native students decreased by 2 percent.
  • In 2014-2015, 29 percent of Alaska Native students consistently demonstrated alphabet knowledge, compared to 56 percent of all other students, a 27 percent difference. In 2019-2020, 39 percent of Alaska Native students consistently demonstrated alphabet knowledge, an increase of 10 percent. Non-Alaska Native student scores decreased by 1 percent during the same period, the report found.  

Baby Raven Reads Assessments

Baby Raven Reads assessments of participating children are standardized to include questions that parallel ADP kindergarten readiness goals, allowing for ready comparison of the program’s progress and ADP results.

Results from participant assessments within the Baby Raven Reads program mirror the wider ADP results for Alaska Native kindergarteners. The Baby Raven Reads Parent-Child Project Assessment asks caregivers to assess their child(ren) who are enrolled in the program for a set of skills and behaviors related to early literacy and social-emotional development, many of which reflect ADP goals.

Assessment results showed an increase in all eight skills and behaviors measured through
Baby Raven Reads. These included:

  • a 26 percent increase in the frequency with which children in the program ask to be read to;
  • a 20 percent increase in using words and gestures appropriately; and,
  • an 18 percent increase in recognition of letters and symbols.

Among early learning programs, Baby Raven Reads has the largest reach to Alaska Native children in Juneau. In 2020, Baby Raven Reads enrollment totaled 150, nearly one-quarter of the entire population of Alaska Native children in this age group in Juneau. Baby Raven Reads reaches an even wider audience in the community through distribution of books published through the program and through a partnership between Baby Raven Reads and the Juneau Head Start program, the study found.

Staff at SHI were thrilled to see the parallels between the ADP and Baby Raven Reads assessments, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

“We know our families love Baby Raven Reads. We know our children are reading more and learning to love books,” Worl said. “Now we know the program is having a significant impact on our children’s school readiness, which will help pave the way for their achievement in academics and in life.”

About Baby Raven Reads

Baby Raven Reads is an award-winning SHI program that promotes a love of learning through culture and community. The program is for families with Alaska Native children up to age 5 throughout Southeast Alaska. Among other things, events include family nights where families are invited to join us for storytelling, songs and other cultural activities. Participants also receive free books and literacy kits through the program. SHI also publishes culturally-relevant children’s books through Baby Raven Reads.

The program is based on ample research that has shown that Alaska Native students do better academically when culturally relevant content is incorporated into learning materials and classes.

In recognition of SHI’s success in applying research-validated practices to promote literacy through Baby Raven Reads, the Library of Congress selected the program for its 2017 Best Practice Honoree award, making it one of only 15 programs in the world to receive the honor that year.

In 2018, the American Indian Library Association (AILA) chose SHI’s book Shanyaak’utlaax̱: Salmon Boy for its American Indian Youth Literature Best Picture Book Award, and in January 2020 it gave Raven Makes the Aleutians an AILA Picture Book Honor award. The Baby Raven Reads program was also one of five recipients in the state chosen for the 2020 Contributions to Literacy in Alaska award given by the Alaska Center for the Book.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

CONTACT: Amy Fletcher, SHI Media and Publications Director, 907.586.9116, amy.fletcher@sealaska.com; Kirsten Shelton, McKinley Research Group consultant, kshelton@mckinleyresearch.com.

Captions: Baby Raven Reads book distribution event by Nobu Koch, courtesy of SHI; table from report showing Baby Raven Reads assessments. For higher resolution images, contact kathy.dye@sealaska.com.

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