Initial longitudinal evaluation results: Huntsville children whose parents participated in LENA Start have stronger literacy skills two years later


Children whose families participated in LENA Start, a parent-group program focused on increasing early talk, demonstrated considerably higher early literacy scores than a matched control sample and were far more likely to be at an advanced literacy level entering pre-K, an evaluation from Huntsville City Schools discovered.

Huntsville City Schools was one of the first sites to launch LENA Start in 2015. In the four years since, they have served nearly 500 families and maintained an 84% graduation rate. Graduating families have continuously demonstrated significant increases in adult words, conversational turns, and children’s developmental outcomes. But, ultimately, whether all of these outcomes indicate true success boils down to one question: Are children whose families participated in the LENA Start program entering school more prepared to learn? The answer is a resounding yes.

For their evaluation, the team compared results of the Star Early LiteracyⓇ assessment administered at the beginning of pre-K between children whose caregivers participated in LENA Start and those whose caregivers did not. The assessments were conducted on average about two and a half years after the families completed the program.

Four-year-olds whose parents participated in LENA Start demonstrated considerably higher Early Literacy Scaled Scores than a matched control sample. These differences were statistically significant (that is, not due to chance) and large in size.

Data from LENA participants versus a matched control sample.

Children from LENA Start families were also three times as likely to have reached the more advanced “Late Emergent Reader” stage entering pre-K than the matched control children.

Data on emergent readers from LENA participants versus a matched control sample.

“We’re thrilled to see these results, validating that the hard work of Huntsville’s parents and the School Readiness team is paying off,” Helen Scott, the district’s school readiness director said. “With more children entering our pre-K classrooms prepared to learn, we expect to see improvements in kindergarten readiness and third grade reading proficiency. Participating in LENA Start and Huntsville’s preschool program is a powerful combination!”

These results augment recent research highlighting the importance of conversational turns as well as the more immediate language and developmental gains families have achieved across LENA Start sites nationwide.

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“This evidence continues to build confidence that the promising outcomes we have seen can be achieved more broadly,” Dr. Stephen Hannon, president of LENA, said. “Significant gaps often emerge before children even arrive at kindergarten. These exciting longitudinal results show that building a focus on talking with children in the first three years of life will have a meaningful impact on their readiness to learn when they enter pre-K and kindergarten.”

To learn more about how LENA supports parents and teachers in closing opportunity gaps for children, we invite you to join us for an informational webinar or apply for funding to launch a new LENA Start site.

See media coverage of this story on or WHNT News 19.


The LENA Team is a dedicated group of professionals who are passionate about increasing awareness of the importance of early interactive talk. We are statisticians, speech-language pathologists, curriculum specialists, engineers and linguists.

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