SPARK develops literacy skills through one-on-one tutoring using a framework that is similar to Reading Recovery. Instead of certified teachers though, SPARK tutors are trained and supervised by site managers who are certified teachers. By using tutors instead of teachers, SPARK is able to engage more students at a reduced cost. This also allows SPARK to meet the needs of urban and poorer schools that do not have the teaching capacity and resources needed to meet the literacy instructional needs of all students.
SPARK addresses “why” students are behind in their literacy development by using parent liaisons to promote literacy in the home and community. Parent liaisons stay connected to parents through a variety of means, such as notes home, parent events, and home visits. Through these ongoing communications, SPARK is able to keep parents informed about their child’s literacy progress and address any issues, such as excessive school absences, that arise. Boys & Girls Clubs are able to leverage other after-school club activities to stay engaged with students and families. This ongoing family and student engagement allows students to continue to receive support if they need it and sustains the impact of SPARK after participation has ended.
In 2010, SPARK was awarded an Investing in Innovation (i3) Department of Education grant to further develop the program and test its impact through two randomized control trial evaluations conducted in the Milwaukee Public Schools. The i3-funded independent evaluation conducted by the Office of Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education (SREed) at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee found that:
- SPARK had statistically significant positive impacts on both overall reading achievement and literacy development.
- The impact of SPARK was greater for students who started the program with greater need for literacy instruction. The magnitude of the impact for these students was between .3 and .6 standard deviations.
- The family engagement component of SPARK impacted students as well. Specifically, SPARK participants were absent from school 5.8 fewer times than control students and were 27% less likely to be chronically absent from school.
Both of these studies have been viewed by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) What Works Clearinghouse and determined to meet their standards of rigor without reservations. Their reviews of our evaluations of SPARK can be found at the following websites: