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Final Report for the Evaluation of the Parent Mentoring Project in Manukau

Publication Details

This report presents the findings from an outcome evaluation of the Parent Mentoring Project in Manukau initiated in 2007. It is submitted by Auckland UniServices Limited on behalf of the researchers, Dr. Deborah Widdowson and Assoc. Prof. Robyn Dixon, at the Centre for Child and Family Research, the University of Auckland.

Author(s): Prepared by Dr Deborah Widdowson, Assoc Prof Robyn Dixon [Centre for Child and Family Research-The University of Auckland] for the Ministry of Education

Date Published: April 2011

Executive Summary

This executive summary contains the main findings and conclusions from the outcome evaluation for the Parent Mentoring Project in Manukau, the aims of which are to assist children’s transition to school, improve student achievement and increase parental involvement in children’s education. The evaluation is based on analysis of quantitative data, including student achievement data obtained at ages 5, 6 and 7 for children who attended a Parent Mentoring Playgroup and those with a different or no early childhood education (ECE) experience, student attitudes to learning obtained at ages 5, 6 and 7 years, transition to school data, and qualitative data: interviews with Community Liaison Workers/Playgroup Leaders, teachers and principals, focus group discussions with parents and playgroup observation data.

Parent Mentoring Project in Manukau

Parent mentoring involves “the forming of relationships between parents and schools that enables both parties to contribute more effectively to the education and achievement of students” (Hucker, 2001, p. 3). The Parent Mentoring Project was designed to improve student achievement through the provision of mentor support for parents of children starting school. In Manukau, the Project involved the establishment of playgroups within low decile schools for attendance by preschoolers and their parents. Playgroups were led by a Community Liaison Worker funded to facilitate educational activities for approximately 15 hours a week.

The key objective of the Parent Mentoring Playgroup Project in Manukau was to increase student achievement through the provision of mentor support for parents of children starting school. In addition, the expected outcomes of the Project were:

  • parents and schools developed a positive two-way relationship focussed on student learning (i.e. the schools actively and as part of a regular cycle, involve parents in decisions affecting their children’s learning and in critical reflection on achievement goals)
  • parents gained learning resources and information on how to support their children’s learning at home
  • staff gained training and professional development

The Evaluation

The outcome evaluation of the Parent Mentoring Project in Manukau commenced in 2007 to address the following evaluation questions:

  1. What evidence is there of how student achievement, attitudes to learning and other short and medium term outcomes have been affected by the Parent Mentoring Project in the first three years that the students are at school?
  2. How do the parent mentoring children’s achievement results and other short and medium term outcomes compare to those of children who have received significant other early childhood education (ECE) experience and to those who have received insignificant or no other ECE experience?
  3. What are the key characteristics of the project in the schools and in the ‘Parent Mentoring Playgroups’ that make it successful in terms of learning outcomes for students and effective involvement of parents?

Data Sources

Quantitative measures:

Student achievement was measured at age 5 years and 6 years using the following instruments:

  • Four literacy assessments from the Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement (Clay, 1993):
    1. Concepts About Print (CAP);
    2. Letter Identification (LID);
    3. Word Test;
    4. Running Records (Reading Level);
  • Numeracy Project Assessment (NumPA)

Student achievement was measured at age 7 years on:

  • Supplementary Tests of Achievement in Reading Year 3 (STAR)
  • Global Strategy Stage (GloSS) assessment

Students’ attitudes to learning were measured at age 5, 6 and 7 years using a five-point Likert scale consisting of 9 statements (see Appendix1).

Students’ transitions to school were measured upon school entry using a four-point Likert scale comprised of 12 statements completed by classroom teachers.

Early childhood experience information, demographic data and maternal education levels were obtained using a survey completed by parents at the time a child entered school.

Qualitative measures:

Interviews were conducted with:

  • Community Liaison Workers/Playgroup Leaders at each Parent Mentoring Playgroup;
  • School Principals and/or Deputy Principals
  • Classroom teachers

  Focus groups were conducted with:

  • Parents of children who attended a Parent Mentoring Playgroup.

Observational data:

  • An observation was conducted at each of the 9 Parent Mentoring Playgroups

Participants

Student sample

The student sample at Time 1 and 2 comprised 290 students; 72 students who had participated in a Parent Mentoring Playgroup, 176 who had attended Other Formal early childhood education and 42 who had No Formal early childhood education.

At Time 3, age 7 years, the total student sample consisted of 242 students; 58 of whom had attended a Parent Mentoring (PM) Playgroup, 151 who had experienced Other Formal ECE and 33 of whom had no formal ECE.

Adult sample

Interviews were conducted with 11 Community Liaison Workers/Playgroup Leaders, 19 classroom teachers and 10 principals/assistant principals. A total of 42 Parent Mentoring Playgroup parents participated in focus groups.

Findings

Quantitative findings showed that there were no significant differences on any of the measures of academic achievement between the three groups of students, Parent Mentoring Playgroup children, children who had experienced Other Formal ECE and children who had experienced No Formal ECE, at age 5 years on entry to school indicating that all students were achieving at similar levels at school entry no matter the type or lack of early childhood education they had experienced. Differences were found, however, at age 6, with Parent Mentoring Playgroup (PMP) children achieving higher scores on all literacy measures compared to children who experienced Other Formal ECE and those who experienced No Formal ECE.

Specifically, at Time 1, analyses conducted found no differences between students at age 5 years. At Time 2, differences were found between ECE groups: At age 6, students who had attended Parent Mentoring Playgroups achieved higher scores on all four literacy measures compared to students who experienced Other Formal ECE, and to students who had experienced No Formal early childhood education. These differences were significant on CAP, Reading Level and LID between PMP students and students with Other Formal ECE, and on CAP, Reading Level, Word and LID between PMP students and students who had No Formal ECE. No significant differences were found on achievement scores between students who had Other Formal ECE and those who had No Formal ECE. The differences were educationally significant (i.e., effect size above 0.4) between the PMP children and No Formal ECE group on CAP, Reading Level, LID and Word, and approached educational significance between the PMP and Other Formal ECE group on LID and CAP.

Findings at Time 3 (age 7 years)

Comparisons of mean scores for each group at Time 3 on the literacy measure, STAR, found that students in the group that had attended a Parent Mentoring Playgroup obtained a higher mean score than either the students who had experienced Other Formal ECE or the students who had experienced No Formal ECE. However, these differences were not significant. Comparisons of mean reading level for each group at Time 3 showed that children in the PM Playgroup cohort obtained a higher mean reading level score than either of the other two groups, although none of the differences were significant. Analysis of numeracy assessment data found no differences between any of the groups.

Key characteristics of the project contributing to successful outcomes for students and effective involvement of parents

Characteristics of the Parent Mentoring Playgroup experience that appear to have contributed to the successful learning outcomes for students include the finding that PM Playgroups incorporated structured, teacher-led, school-like activities and provided children with opportunities to become familiar with school practices and routines. These opportunities and activities served to prepare children for school entry, easing their transition to school and providing them with skills and a readiness for learning valued by classroom teachers.

A second characteristic identified was the quality of transitions made by Playgroup children. Various aspects of the PM Playgroups played a role in this. Familiarity with school, school-like practices and the classroom environment, and the continuity that this provided children and parents between the ECE context and school impacted positively on children’s transitions to school

Another salient characteristic of Playgroups is parent participation and engagement: through participation, Parents gained skills to support their children’s learning, both in the Playgroup and at home, and developed confidence in interacting with their children’s educators. These factors assisted parents to participate more fully in their children’s learning. The skills, confidence and familiarity with schools gained through participation in Parent Mentoring Playgroup may have increased parents’ ability to provide support for their children’s learning once they started school, over time contributing to the successful outcomes obtained for their children.

Effective participation by parents in the Parent Mentoring Playgroups was supported by parents’ preference for a structured learning environment for their children and their desires to participate and learn alongside their children, which were satisfied in this context.

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