How Effective Are Family Literacy Programs for Children’s Literacy Skills?

A Review of the Meta-Analytic Evidence

Authored by: Roel van Steensel , Stephanie Herppich , Nele McElvany , Jeanne Kurvers

Handbook of Family Literacy

Print publication date:  April  2012
Online publication date:  August  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415884570
eBook ISBN: 9780203841495
Adobe ISBN: 9781136899126


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The term “meta-analysis” refers to “the statistical analysis of a large collection of analysis results from individual studies for the purpose of integrating the findings” (Glass, 1976, p. 3). Meta-analyses allow us to make generally applicable estimates of the effects of certain types of programs—in this case, family literacy programs—and to determine the conditions that make such programs effective for enhancing children’s literacy skills. Although several meta-analyses of studies examining the impact of parent-involvement programs have been conducted since the 1990s (Blok, Fukkink, Gebhardt, & Leseman, 2005; Erion, 2006; Fishel & Ramirez, 2005; Mattingly, Prislin, McKenzie, Rodriguez, & Kayzar, 2002; White, Taylor, & Moss, 1992), the meta-analytic interest in research that focuses specifically on family literacy interventions is quite new. In this chapter we summarize the recent meta-analytic evidence regarding the effectiveness of these interventions for children and use this information to answer three questions:

Do family literacy programs positively affect children’s literacy skills and, if so, to what extent?

What are the moderating effects of program, participant, and study characteristics on the effectiveness of these programs?

Are there differences in outcomes between meta-analyses and, if so, how can these be explained and used to revise programs?

For this review we conducted a literature search in the ERIC and PsycInfo bibliographical databases applying the following groups of search terms we used in a meta-analysis carried out recently (van Steensel, McElvany, Kurvers, & Herppich, 2011): (a) program, intervention, training; (b) home, family, parents; and (c) literacy and reading. We then combined these with the search term “meta-analysis.” We restricted our search to peer-reviewed journal articles published between 1990 and 2010. This search yielded seven meta-analytic papers: Fischel and Landry (2008); Lonigan, Escamilla, and Strickland (2008); Lonigan, Shanahan, and Cunningham (2008); Manz, Hughes, Barnabas, Bracaliello, and Ginsburg-Block (2010); Mol, Bus, De Jong, and Smeets (2008); Piasta and Wagner (2010); and Sénéchal and Young (2008). 1 We complement the information produced by these seven reviews with data resulting from afore-mentioned meta-analysis (van Steensel et al., 2011) and thus discuss the results of a total of eight different meta-analyses.

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