Luminos Liberia Students Make Substantial Literacy Gains in 2021-22

Luminos Liberia Students Make Substantial Literacy Gains in 2021-22

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In 2016, the Luminos Fund launched its accelerated, catch-up learning program in Liberia to help address the country’s urgent education needs – including one of the world’s highest recorded rates of out-of-school children. To date, Luminos has helped 12,650 Liberian children catch up on learning and reintegrate into local government schools. In addition, Luminos has trained 497 young adults on our pedagogy and model, and supported them to deliver the catch-up program in classrooms.

During the 2021-22 school year, the Luminos program increased children’s oral reading fluency (ORF) by 28 correct words per minute (CWPM), with girls progressing 3 CWPM more than boys. Students also made substantial gains in numeracy, with a 28 percentage point improvement in addition and a 20 percentage point improvement in subtraction. Our latest report, “Liberia 2021-22 Endline Evaluation Report,” summarizes results from the 2021-22 Luminos program endline evaluation conducted by Q&A Services. [1]

In 2021-22, the Luminos program ran for 9 months—from November to August— in line with the Ministry of Education’s 2021-22 official academic calendar; this calendar was shifted slightly compared to a standard, September – June calendar due to COVID-19. Luminos students attended class for 7 hours per day from Monday to Friday, with approximately 5 hours per day devoted to reading and 2 hours to numeracy.

Luminos supported 3,150 out-of-school students across 105 classes and five counties (Bomi, Bong, Grand Cape Mount, Margibi, and Montserrado) in Liberia. Every year, Luminos works closely with a small group of community-based partners, each of which manages a cluster of classrooms, to deliver the program.

The results of the evaluation show that the Luminos Fund’s Liberia program positively impacted student reading and math outcomes across all EGRA and EGMA subtasks in the 2021-22 school year. Student improvement in reading was statistically significant. 

Evaluation Overview

The evaluation aimed to demonstrate the impact of the Luminos Liberia program on student literacy, numeracy, and socio-emotional outcomes during the 36-week 2021-22 program. Q&A Services assessed the literacy and numeracy levels of a random sample of students across all Luminos classes in the first two weeks of the program (baseline) and again in the final week of the program (endline). The RTI/USAID-developed Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) and Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA) tools, adapted for Liberia, were used at both baseline and endline to assess students on a variety of early grade reading and math skills. A socio-emotional learning (SEL) assessment was also conducted with a subset of the student sample using the International Social Emotional Learning Assessment (ISELA) tool. For more details on the evaluation and methods used, please see the full report summary.

Overall Results

The results of the evaluation show that the Luminos program positively impacted student achievement in both reading and math, with a statistically significant impact on the former.

Literacy

On reading, students showed improvement across every EGRA subtask, including an improvement of 50 percentage points on letter identification, 46 percentage points on oral reading fluency (ORF) of Grade 2 level text, 39 percentage points on familiar words, and 33 percentage points on reading comprehension. For ORF, students could read 29 CWPM at endline, compared to 1 CWPM at baseline, an improvement of 28 CWPM.

Numeracy

On numeracy, students again showed improvement across every single EGMA subtask, including an improvement of 35 percentage points on number identification, 33 percentage points on number discrimination, 28 percentage points on addition, 20 percentage points on subtraction, and 22 percentage points on word problems. While the program impacted student achievement on mathematics, improvement was less significant than for literacy. This makes sense given that 5 hours of the Luminos school day (approximately 70% of instructional time) is devoted to literacy and 2 hours each day (30% of instructional time) is devoted to numeracy.

Conclusion

The results of the evaluation show that the Luminos Fund’s Liberia program positively impacted student reading and math outcomes across all EGRA and EGMA subtasks in the 2021-22 school year. Student improvement in reading was statistically significant. Results show that the average student improved by 28 CWPM within the 9-month program, with girls improving 3 CWPM more than boys. These results are incredibly impressive given the short (9-month) timeframe for the Luminos program. Results for the SEL assessment show improvement on self-concept, particularly for girls, suggesting possible impact of the Luminos program on broader student development; however, further research is required. When compared with similar programs in Liberia and globally, year on year the Luminos program is showing strong learning outcomes, particularly on literacy.

To read the full report summary, including additional background on our Liberia program and a more detailed overview of the evaluation and methods used, click here.

References:

  1. Simpson, A. “Luminos Fund Endline Evaluation 2021-22, Liberia,” Q&A Services, December 2022.
What the Average Hides

What the Average Hides

By: James Earl Kiawoin

At the Luminos Fund, our work is driven by a commitment to help children learn an incredible amount in a short time: three years of school in just 10 months. As the Country Manager for our Liberia program, my team and I set ambitious targets to ensure all our students build foundational learning skills — and we measure their progress along the way, in real-time, often using data averages to gain quick insights.

While averages are helpful, we’ve learned it is critical to dig deeper to uncover who might be falling behind and why, because addressing these subtle differences ensures no student is left behind.

James Earl Kiawoin, Luminos Liberia Country Manager

Proving that Every Child Can Learn

In Liberia, one of our most challenging targets for the 2021/22 academic year was that every student could read a minimum of 40 correct words per minute (WPM) after 10 months.

At the start of the year, internal baseline data showed that children were entering the program reading just one WPM on average. Only three months later, reading abilities varied quite dramatically (this is not necessarily surprising, given our students come from very different backgrounds).

2021-2022 Luminos Liberia reading fluency scores

Seven months into the school year, we were entering the final stretch. With just three months left, our team made one last push to ensure all students had a real chance to succeed and could move closer towards the goal of 40 WPM. We doubled down our efforts to understand who was struggling and why.

What Impacts Student Learning?

First, we looked at the data: There was remarkable progress compared to day one, but roughly 50% of students were reading below our benchmark of 30 WPM for this point in the program. Within this group, a majority of students were with new, first-year teachers.

Second, our community partners visited the classrooms to identify what other challenges might exist that data alone could not reveal. For example, were these students struggling because they lived in areas where English, the language of instruction, is not widely spoken? Was student attendance a challenge? Were parents and caregivers supportive and engaged? 

Overall, we needed to target different schools for different reasons, but the data helped Luminos and our community partners identify the classrooms with students falling behind and develop tailored strategies to support them and their teachers. This included a range of techniques:

    Providing more frequent and tailored support for new teachers:

    Our community partners in Liberia typically visit up to five classes a day. In order to better support new teachers, our partners began to spend more time in fewer classes, providing teachers with deeper, relevant, timely, and actionable feedback. One cross-cutting challenge they identified was related to phonics, breaking words down into sounds and combining letters to form words. This approach is not taught in Liberian government schools, and for most of our students, this was the first time they encountered phonics. For the same reasons, our newer teachers benefitted from additional training and support in this area.

    Sharing and discussing data with teachers:

    While data helps Luminos think about program design, training, and curriculum updates at a high level, teachers can use data daily to help them steer their approach in the classroom, understand which students are struggling, and continuously improve their craft.  Our community partners worked to share and discuss student assessment data with teachers, ensuring teachers were equipped with practical strategies to adjust their teaching to help all students learn joyfully and effectively.

    Providing additional one-to-one and small group support to students:

    During regular lesson times, teachers provided additional one-to-one support to students who were performing lowest in the weekly assessments. Teachers also paired higher-performing students with those who are lower performing so that they can help to provide additional support during lessons. Additionally, teachers identified students who would benefit from small group instruction that provided targeted lessons on specific skills.

    Regrouping students and teachers:

    In communities with more than one classroom, we moved students to other classes based on their reading level, usually having an experienced teacher available to ensure they can catch up more effectively.  

    The Results

    Looking back on the school year, there was no silver bullet — but there was a process, and that yielded significant learning improvements for our students. At the end of the school year, 67% of students were reading at or above 30 WPM—an increase of over 17% from month seven of the program—thanks to the efforts of our community partners, teachers, and yes – data.

    One of the joys of working at Luminos is that data is centrally important to us. It helps us identify challenges and respond to the needs on the ground in real-time.

    Luminos is constantly striving to find the right balance – not over-complicating what we ask community partners and teachers to do, but also having high expectations and aspirations for what we can and should be achieving for the benefit of our students.

    As I close in on one year at Luminos, I have learned that a hands-on approach to teacher training and a strong focus on collecting real-time data is key. Taken together with our passion for helping every child to succeed, we can support children everywhere to unlock the light of learning and fulfill their potential.

    Luminos is constantly striving to find the right balance – not over-complicating what we ask community partners and teachers to do, but also having high expectations and aspirations for what we can and should be achieving for the benefit of our students.

    James Earl Kiawoin is the Country Manager for the Luminos Fund in Liberia where he manages day-to-day operations, overall program delivery, government and stakeholder engagement, and supports staff development. Previously, James worked as a Strategy Consultant at Dalberg Advisors in Rwanda where he completed projects on higher education financing and digital ecosystem development including e-government services. 

    Luminos Liberia Students Made Remarkable Progress Despite Pandemic-Shortened School Year

    Luminos Liberia Students Made Remarkable Progress Despite Pandemic-Shortened School Year

    Read the full report summary ↑

    In 2016, the Luminos Fund launched the Second Chance program in Liberia to help address the country’s urgent education needs – including one of the world’s highest recorded rates of out-of-school children. To date, Luminos has helped 12,650 Liberian children catch up on learning and reintegrate into local schools. 489 young people have been trained in the Second Chance pedagogy and model.

    Previous external evaluation results show that in just 10 months, Second Chance students in Liberia are reading 39 correct words per minute (CWPM) on average, compared to just under 5 CWPM at the start of the program. [1] Approximately 90% of Luminos students transition to mainstream school at the end of the program.

    During the 2020/21 school year, results show that the Second Chance program increased oral reading fluency by 28.7 CWPM, with girls progressing 4 CWPM more than boys. These results are remarkable on two accounts. First, the 2020/21 school year was a shorter, 7-month program due to the COVID-19 pandemic (in a typical school year, the Second Chance program runs for 10 months). Second, the 2020/21 school year marked the reopening of classes in Liberia for the Luminos Fund after COVID-19 school closures (mid-March through December 2020). Our latest report, “Second Chance Liberia Endline Evaluation Report,” summarizes results from the 2020/21 Second Chance endline evaluation conducted by Q&A Services. [2]

    Evaluation Overview

    The evaluation aimed to demonstrate the impact of the Second Chance Liberia program on student literacy and numeracy outcomes during the 28-week 2020/21 program. The literacy and numeracy levels of a random sample of students across all Second Chance classes were assessed in the first two weeks of the program (baseline) and again in the final week of the program (endline). 345 students (ngirls= 163, nboys 182) across 80 Second Chance classes were assessed at baseline and endline. The RTI/USAID-developed Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) and Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA) tools adapted for Liberia were used at both baseline and endline to assess students on a variety of early grade reading and math skills. For more details on the evaluation and methods used, please see the full report summary.

    Overall Results

    Results show that the Second Chance program positively impacted student achievement in both reading and math, with statistically significant impact on reading.

    Literacy

    On reading, students showed improvement across every EGRA subtask, including improvement of 48 percentage points on both letter identification and oral reading fluency of Grade 2 level text, 41 percentage points on familiar words, and 28 percentage points on reading comprehension. In oral reading fluency, students read 31.5 correct words per minute (CWPM) at endline, compared to 2.8 CWPM at baseline. Results show that the Second Chance program increased oral reading fluency by 28.7 CWPM during the 7-month 2020/21 program. See Table 1 below for the full results.

    Numeracy

    On numeracy, students again showed improvement across every single EGMA subtask, including improvement of 35 percentage points in number identification, 32 percentage points in number discrimination, 27 percentage points on addition and 17 percentage points on subtraction. As noted, while Second Chance impacted student achievement on mathematics, improvement was less significant than literacy. This makes sense given that 5 hours of the Second Chance school day (approximately 70% of instructional time) is devoted to literacy and 2 hours each day (30% of instructional time) is devoted to numeracy. See Table 2 below for the full results.

    Conclusion

    Results from the Luminos Fund’s 2020/21 Liberia program show that the program positively impacted student reading and math outcomes across all EGRA and EGMA subtasks. Student improvement in reading was statistically significant. Results show that the average student improved 28.7 CWPM within the 7-month Second Chance program, with girls improving four CWPM more than boys on oral reading fluency. Outcomes were similar across gender, county, and implementing partner. These results are incredibly impressive given the shorter 7-month 2020/21 program, and the challenges of successfully delivering an education program during the COVID-19 pandemic. When compared with similar programs in Liberia and globally, results show that Second Chance is a highly efficient and effective way to help vulnerable children catch up on learning.

    To read the full report summary, including additional background on our Liberia program and a more detailed overview of the evaluation and methods used, click here.


    1. Simpson, A. “Luminos Fund Second Chance Program, Liberia, Endline Evaluation Report 2018-19,” Q&A Services, June 2019.

    2. Simpson, A. “Second Chance Liberia Endline Evaluation 2020-21,” Q&A Services, October 2021.

    Showing Up, Raw Data, and Logistics: 3 Lessons on Conducting a Successful Baseline Evaluation in Ghana

    Showing Up, Raw Data, and Logistics: 3 Lessons on Conducting a Successful Baseline Evaluation in Ghana

    Ernesta Orlovaitė is Associate Director of Programs at the Luminos Fund. Ernesta oversees the design and delivery of Luminos’ program in Ghana, collaborating closely with the government and local implementing partners. She also guides Luminos’ efforts to strengthen its capacity for data-based decision-making and drive better outcomes for our students. Previously, Ernesta worked as a Product Manager at Google, leading product design and development teams in Switzerland and Japan. 


    Launching an education program in a new country is an unforgettable experience. As a seemingly endless list of tasks gets shorter, emails and calls give way to something much more tangible: printing primers, delivering teacher training, and, finally, ushering excited children to the classrooms for their first lesson. The first day in class is the singular focus in the weeks and months before program launch – getting everything ready just in time is a monumental undertaking.

    Yet at the same time, the first day is just that – the first day in a long journey of learning to read, write, and do basic maths; of learning to learn; and of falling in love with it. In that journey, every day matters. It’s that journey, joyful and child-centered, that transports Luminos students from zero to functional literacy and numeracy in just one school year.

    On March 8, 2022, as dusk fell over the hills of Ashanti, Ghana, where we celebrated the launch of the Luminos program to 1,500 out-of-school children, we were already thinking about our next big goal: an external evaluation of our first year in Ghana.

    Kicking off an independent program evaluation in Ghana

    In Ghana, we are lucky to be working with an experienced local partner, Educational Assessment and Research Centre (EARC). In 2015, EARC, together with Ghana Education Service and RTI International, administered the national Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) and Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA) to more than 7,000 Primary 2 pupils in twelve languages across all ten regions of the country.

    We knew we’d want to use the national assessment instruments to evaluate our program. These instruments have been extensively tested and translated to Asante Twi: the language of instruction in Luminos classrooms this year. Using them would also allow us to compare our student progress against learning achievements in formal schools. But we also knew that Luminos classrooms are, in several important ways, different from government schools, making assessment delivery significantly more challenging. So, we got involved – and here’s what we learned.

    Lesson 1: Attend enumerator training and provide rapid feedback

    EARC ran a five-day enumerator training in Kumasi, the capital of Ashanti, the week before data collection started. Under the guidance of field coordinators, enumerators visit classrooms to administer EGRA/EGMA and record student responses.

    Enumerator training is a critical component of the data collection process, so the day after our program officially launched, I arrived at the Bethel Methodist Primary School to observe a practice EGRA/EGMA delivery to Grade 2 students. After the first round, I had several pages worth of feedback and so did the two field coordinators from EARC. Huddling together in an empty classroom, we discussed our reflections from that first attempt.

    Enumerator training in Kumasi.

    Some mistakes the enumerators made were mundane and would go away with further practice. For example, with students facing enumerators, several indicated the wrong direction of reading – from right to left. In the second attempt, not a single enumerator repeated the mistake.

    A more serious issue – and one that’s difficult to catch when you don’t speak the language of assessment – was not sticking to the assessment script. With the two field coordinators fluent in Asante Twi, however, we identified and addressed the problem right away. As one of the coordinators emphatically put it while pointing at the enumerator manual, “Read this, and you will go to heaven.”

    Knowing that EARC is an experienced partner, and seeing most enumerators administer EGRA/EGMA with fluency and precision, I wasn’t too concerned about the technical aspects of the evaluation. What worried me was how our students would experience the assessment.

    Luminos works with some of the most vulnerable children in Ashanti. A typical student enrolled in our program would be an 11-year-old who is unable to read even the simplest of words. She might have been kept out of school because her family could not afford a school uniform. She might be tired because that morning she had been working on the family farm. She might be distracted because she hadn’t had lunch before coming to class. The experiences of Luminos children are very different from those of 11-year-olds at the Bethel Methodist Primary School. Few children enjoy assessments. I was worried our students would hate them and fail to demonstrate the extent of their true knowledge.

    As the day progressed, I demonstrated the behaviours that I observed and wanted to correct, celebrated behaviours I wanted to replicate, told heart-warming stories about our students, and gave passionate elevator pitches on rapport building. I might have overdone it, but that’s a small price to pay if, in return, our children showed off all their skills and had fun while doing so.

    As I continued observing enumerators, I kept bringing it up – the importance of building rapport with the student, of making the assessment feel like a (granted, rather boring) game, of creating a welcoming environment, and of treating Luminos children with the same level of respect the enumerators were treating each other and me. As the day progressed, I demonstrated the behaviours that I observed and wanted to correct, celebrated behaviours I wanted to replicate, told heart-warming stories about our students, and gave passionate elevator pitches on rapport building. I might have overdone it, but that’s a small price to pay if, in return, our children showed off all their skills and had fun while doing so.

    Traveling to Hamidu to observe EGRA/EGMA data collection.

    Lesson 2: Get access to raw data and analyse it daily

    EARC used Tangerine, a mobile data collection tool, to record EGRA/EGMA observations in our classrooms. There are numerous advantages to using tablets in data collection, including a significantly higher data quality. No more fiddling with timers or trying to decipher the overly confusing question skip logic. A wonderful side effect of using digital tools is the opportunity to analyse data daily to identify and immediately address issues in assessment administration.

    A wonderful side effect of using digital tools is the opportunity to analyse data daily to identify and immediately address issues in assessment administration.

    An enumerator uses a tablet during training.

    In fact, raw data can be analysed even before assessments start. With practice at the Bethel Methodist Primary School completed, we walked back to the training venue for the first assessor accuracy test. All 20 enumerators completed the same assessment delivered by the two field coordinators. By the time I reached Accra the next morning, I had everything I needed to perform a quick enumerator accuracy analysis.

    After three days of training, our enumerators had an average accuracy rate of 92%. With the 2015 national EGRA/EGMA accuracy goal of 90%, my initial impressions of the experience of the EARC team were confirmed. They were doing well and would do even better by the time training finished.

    Digging deeper into the accuracy data, I noticed a few interesting patterns. EGRA, it turns out, is significantly more challenging to administer than EGMA (90% and 97% enumerator accuracy, respectively), with the phonemic awareness subtask, at an appalling 69% accuracy rate, giving everyone a headache. On the other hand, having worked with challenging EGRA/EGMA data before, I was pleased with the highly consistent task timings. If we are to scale the raw non-word reading scores by time-to-completion, we better trust that the time-to-completion metric is accurate – and now I knew we could.

    That night, I shared my reflections and the names of the 2-3 enumerators who needed individual support with the EARC team. The next day, my feedback was incorporated into the training.

    Once assessments began in our classrooms, I continued analysing the raw data. Rather than trying to gain insights into the baseline learning achievements of our students, I scoured for issues with the data that the EARC team could address right away. As I shared my reflections with field coordinators (“I rather doubt there were 256 boys present in our classroom in Aframso”), they were passing the feedback along to the assessors. We did end up with one more classroom recording the attendance of 207 boys (again, a typo), but I expect we would have seen quite a few more if not for the quick feedback loop.

    Lesson 3: Don’t underestimate logistical challenges

    As enumerator training finished, my “build rapport” mantra gave way to a fixation on logistics. Our classrooms are very different from a typical primary school in Ashanti. We work in some of the most marginalised communities – many don’t have a phone signal, some can only be reached by a motorbike (and it better not rain!), and few can be found on the map. Visiting 60 remote classrooms in five days is a tall order when merely finding these communities can be a challenge.

    School surroundings in Hamidu, one of the remote communities our classrooms operate in.

    Our goal was to ensure that the EARC team completes the assessment in five days. That weekend, Angie Thadani (Luminos Senior Director of Programs) and I sat down and listed all the different ways data collection might go wrong, from enumerators not being able to reach teachers over the phone (definitely happened) to them failing to reach the assigned communities (also definitely happened). For each issue, no matter how outlandish, we identified a solution (or three). By the end of the day, we had a Plan B, a Plan C, and a set of simple mechanisms to improve the chances of Plan A succeeding.

    The single most effective solution was connecting people. Nothing beats a phone call (once it finally goes through) in which the supervisor tells the enumerator how to get to the community, where to stop and ask for directions, and what kind of vehicle is needed to traverse the terrain. In low-connectivity contexts, WhatsApp is another must-have tool, great for planning the next day’s classroom visits once everyone’s back at the base.

    The single most effective solution was connecting people. Nothing beats a phone call (once it finally goes through) in which the supervisor tells the enumerator how to get to the community, where to stop and ask for directions, and what kind of vehicle is needed to traverse the terrain.

    Flexibility is another key ingredient. For example, our teachers and supervisors worked together to start teaching earlier in the day where possible (in Ghana, Luminos classes take place in formal school buildings and thus start in the afternoon once the other students have departed) so that EARC assessors would not have to travel after dark. As assessors became more familiar with the landscape, data collection schedules changed as well – on some days, a single team might assess two classrooms, while on others, reaching a single community could take hours and hours.

    Finally, when all else fails, there’s luck. I planned to observe the first day of assessments, arranging to meet EARC assessors in Abotreye at midday. Abotreye is not the hardest-to-reach community we work in. Nevertheless, to get there in time, I had to get up at 3AM, spend hours in a (thankfully air-conditioned) car, and even push it on a particularly bad strip of the road. But I made it to Abotreye in time. The assessors, however, didn’t. Luck came afterwards – I ran into them a few hours later, alone with their backpacks (with no vehicle in sight), seemingly pondering their options. We picked them up, drove them to the nearest classroom, and left a few hours later as they were finishing the day’s work.

    On the road to Abotreye we came across a particularly bad strip of road.

    What’s next

    Working with such a strong evaluation partner was an incredible experience. The Luminos Fund knew we could trust EARC to deliver high-quality EGRA and EGMA in our classrooms in Ghana. But we also knew that the context we work in is unusual.

    Informed by our understanding of the unique features of our classrooms and guided by their extensive experiences of administering learning assessments in Ghana, EARC completed the Luminos EGRA/EGMA baseline in time. We are yet to receive the final dataset and the accompanying report, but the raw data is already telling a story – one that we will share next time.

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