Grants help improve childhood literacy, reduce truancy

By Madison Rosenbaum, WSU Tri-Cities intern

Strand-80RICHLAND, Wash. — Faculty from Washington State University Tri-Cities and Pullman have received two grants to evaluate state programs intended to improve childhood literacy and reduce school-age truancy.

With one grant, WSU will evaluate and refine the new WaKIDS program. WaKIDS aims to improve children’s transition into kindergarten and their early school success through assessment and development.

The other grant will be used to evaluate and refine the Washington Assessment of the Risks and Needs of Students (WARNS) youth survey, which is designed to assist schools, courts and youth service providers to identify factors that lead to truancy.

FrenchPaul Strand, associate professor of psychology at WSU Tri-Cities, is principal investigator for the WaKIDS evaluation – a $400,000 award from the U.S. Department of Education Institute for Education Sciences. He will work with WSU Pullman education faculty Brian French and Chad Gotch and former graduate student Connie Beecher, now at Iowa State University.

gotch“The assessment of literacy skills in kindergarten is especially important,” Gotch said. “Children who do not develop strong literacy skills at this age are more at risk for dropping out of school, facing limited employment opportunities and even suffering from poor health.”

The team will look at 126 classrooms in seven school districts, including kindergarteners from both rural and urban communities. A large percent of students will be English-language learners whose families qualify for federal free and reduced-cost lunch programs.

Thirty-nine of these classrooms are piloting an enhanced WaKIDS process that includes professional support for teachers and more frequent use of a development-based assessment tool.

The researchers will evaluate the adequacy of the assessment tool and whether literacy outcomes are better for children in classrooms employing the enhanced program. The enhanced framework is being considered for statewide implementation.

“Our partnership with eastern Washington school districts aims to improve the literacy skills of kindergarteners who arrive at school from a variety of linguistic and cultural backgrounds,” Strand said. “What information do teachers need to help those children become effective learners?

“That is a primary goal of kindergarten—to prepare children for success in later grades. By listening to teachers and school administrators, we hope to help them develop the classroom tools and procedures that make that happen for all of their students,” he said.

French is principal investigator for the $21,412 grant from the Washington State Center for Court Research to evaluate the youth risks and needs survey. The WSU team will analyze how useful the tool is to schools and juvenile courts and whether or not the scores it generates are reliable and valid.

Strand is co-principal investigator on this grant, which also will include Gotch.

“These awards are in recognition of Dr. Strand’s sustained commitment to this community and especially to those in our community who are most academically at-risk: those children raised in culturally and linguistically diverse homes,” said Mike Mays, vice chancellor of academic affairs at WSU Tri-Cities.

Strand earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Tennessee Knoxville. He has been with WSU Tri-Cities for 17 years and is a program lead in the College of Arts and Sciences.

He studies the social skills development, academic readiness and school engagement of children and adolescents, particularly those who are raised in culturally and linguistically diverse homes.

Learn more about WSU Tri-Cities and its commitment to dynamic student engagement, dynamic research experiences and dynamic community engagement at


Paul Strand, WSU Tri-Cities associate professor of psychology, 509-372-7177,
Madison Rosenbaum, WSU Tri-Cities marketing and communications student intern,