Making the Grade: Understanding What Works for Teaching Literacy in Rural Uganda
This paper evaluates an early primary literacy program in Northern Uganda. Through a randomized experiment, we measure the effects of the literacy program as implemented by the organization that developed it. We compare those results to a second treatment group, which received a reduced-cost version of the program that was implemented through the government and designed to simulate how the program could be implemented at scale. The full version of the program has extremely large impacts on student learning: it improves student recognition of letter names by 1.0 SD, which is among the largest impacts ever measured in a randomized trial of an education program. The reduced-cost version improves letter-name knowledge by 0.4 SD, making it slightly more cost-effective than the full version. However, its effects on overall literacy are statistically insignificant and it generates large negative effects on certain aspects of writing. This suggests that cost effectiveness in improving the "headline" outcome measure emphasized by programs can come at the cost of lower performance in other areas.