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The USAID Malawi Teacher Professional Development Support (MTPDS) project was a 3-year activity supporting the professional development of teachers in Malawi from 2009 to 2013. The lead implementer was Creative Associates International. The 2010 Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) represents the baseline (first) assessment of the program.

MTPDS aimed to improve early grade reading outcomes by implementing the National Primary Curriculum (NPC), also known as the Primary Curriculum Assessment Reform (PCAR).

EGRA Subtasks

An EGRA measures children’s pre-reading and reading skills. The subtasks used in this assessment are described below.

Oral Reading Fluency (ORF)

The oral reading fluency (ORF) subtask measures how quickly and accurately a student can read. It is a core component of EGRA because it brings together lower-level reading skills (such as decoding and familiar word recognition) with how quickly and easily the student can read a given word (called automaticity).

Students were given a short, written passage containing 61 words that was on a topic that was familiar to them. They were asked to read it out loud “quickly but carefully” and were given 60 seconds from when they begin to read. The EGRA administrator timed the student, making note of any mistakes the student made while reading the words aloud. The score is reported as correct words per minute (cwpm).

Initial Sound

The initial sound subtask is a measure of a student’s ability to identify the first sound in a word. It also measures a student’s ability to separate words into sounds and to manipulate those sounds.

Students were told the following words verbally and asked to isolate and pronounce the first sound of the word (the initial sound): kala, dona, khala, atate, bala, mana, gada, wada, nola, gwada. The EGRA administrator recorded the number of correct letter sounds identified.

Letter Names

The letter names subtask tests students’ ability to recognize letters and accurately speak their corresponding name.

The students were presented with a grid listing 100 letters in a random order. Students were asked to read out loud as many as they could, as quickly and carefully as they could, in 1 minute. The EGRA administrator timed the child, making note of any mistakes the child made while calling out the letter names. The score is reported as correct letters per minute (clpm).

Syllable Sounds

The syllable identification subtask tests students’ ability to recognize syllables. Chichewa is considered by Malawians to be syllabic in nature.

The students were presented with a grid of syllables and asked to pronounce as many of the syllables’ sounds as possible. The EGRA administrator timed the child and recorded the number of correct syllable sounds per minute (cspm).

Nonwords

The nonword subtask tests students’ skill in using letter-sound connections to figure out (“decode”) words. While many students learn to memorize a broad range of "sight" words, they need skills to decode less-familiar words.

In this subtask, students were given a list of 50 made-up words that do not exist in Chichewa but follow a typical spelling/sound combination of the language. This ensures that the student is not recognizing the whole word and must “sound-out” the non-word in order to correctly read it. The student was asked to read out loud as many words as they could, as quickly and carefully as they could. The EGRA administrator timed the student and recorded the number of correct words per minute (cnwpm).

Familiar Words

The familiar word reading subtask is similar in format to the nonword reading subtask except that it presents the student with a grid containing 50 words they are expected to be able to read at their grade level and have likely encountered before.

The students were instructed to read aloud as many words as they could in 1 minute. The EGRA administrator timed the student, making note of any mistakes the student made while reading the words aloud. The score is reported as correct words per minute (cwpm).

Listening Comprehension

Listening comprehension is a measure of students’ oral language skills, which also contributes to reading.

In this subtask, the EGRA administrator read a passage to the student, who did not see it. The student then responded to questions or statements read by the EGRA administrator. The listening comprehension score is the total correct answers, with a maximum possible score of five.

Reading Comprehension

Comprehension is the main goal of reading—understanding what is read. Comprehension is a complex task that requires some ability in all other reading skills.

This subtask is paired with the ORF subtask. Depending on how much of the ORF passage the student was able to read, the EGRA administrator asked the student up to five questions about the story. The EGRA administrator recorded the number of questions answered correctly.

Year 2010
Grade(s) 2, 4
Language Chichewa
Assessment EGRA
Assessment Type National Reading Program
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Regions Included in the Study

States included in the study
Map of Malawi

Key Findings

  • 1/3

    Overall levels of reading were low for students in grades 2 and 4.

    The average oral reading fluency (ORF) rates were 1 correct word per minute (cwpm) and 11 cwpm, respectively, far below what is needed to become a fluent reader.
  • 2/3

    About 94% of grade 2 students could not read a single word of connected text. More than half (55%) of grade 4 students were similarly unable to read a single word. There were no statistically significant differences in reading fluency between boys and girls in either grade.

  • 3/3

    About three-quarters (74%) of grade 4 students were unable to answer a single listening comprehension question.

Program Design

The program was active in seven districts throughout the country. MTPDS focused on grade 1–4 teachers who gave lessons in Chichewa. MTPDS included a pilot of an intensive reading program called Maziko a Kuwerenga (“Foundations of Reading” in Chichewa). The pilot ran from 2010 to 2012 in the districts of Salima and Ntchisi. When the pilot ended, endline results showed it was successful, so it was expanded to MTPDS’s five other districts. Grade 1 students in pilot schools were given a textbook; their teachers were given 8 days of training, scripted lesson plans, and occasional school-based coaching. Parents and community members were informed of the program and encouraged to hold “literacy fairs” for teachers and students to show what they had learned.

Evaluation Design

These EGR Barometer data for MTPDS are from the 2010 baseline. These data can be used to evaluate the impact of the program at the 2012 endline through comparisons of the intervention regions to a control region. More information about this program may be found in the USAID Funded Malawi Teacher Professional Development Support (MTPDS) Program, 2010 Early Grade Reading Assessment: National Baseline Report.