Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
  • This strategy can help address educational disparities. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve this outcome are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
  • Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Program overview

  • Supplemental early literacy curriculum: Stepping Stones to Literacy is a supplemental early literacy curriculum for preschool and kindergarten students. It has been demonstrated to produce positive impacts on phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and phonics.

  • Helping children develop essential early literacy skills: This curriculum focuses on five core early literacy skills: listening, conventions (e.g., letter identification), phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and serial processing. Lessons are implemented either in a classroom setting or through pull-out services, either in small groups or one-on-one. There are 25 daily lessons, each 10-20 minutes long, that incorporate listening, speaking, and print material activities. Lesson plans are available in both English and Spanish.

  • Targeted towards young children: This intervention is designed for older preschool and kindergarten students who lack early literacy skills. These students tend to not know letter names, lack phonological awareness, and cannot blend or segment phonemes. Placement in the program is determined based on teacher recommendations, assessments, and routine classroom screening.

  • Can be delivered by a variety of instructors: The Stepping Stones to Literacy curriculum is designed to be implementable by a range of different educators. Classroom teachers, special education teachers, reading specialists, student support services personnel, and paraprofessionals can all lead lessons without needing any supplemental training.

Cost per Participant
Approximately $240 per student per year

Evidence and impacts


Ranked as having the highest level of evidence by the U.S. Department of Education What Works Clearinghouse

Two studies with rigorous designs demonstrate that Stepping Stones to Literacy is a well-supported strategy for improving early literacy skills.

  • A 2007 research synthesis found that the Stepping Stones to Literacy program produced statistically significant positive effects on phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and phonics.

Best practices in implementation

  • Utilize pre-assessments: Stepping Stones to Literacy is designed specifically for students who are struggling with early literacy skills. Using pre-assessment tools can help ensure that the children who most need this additional support are participating in the lessons. Assessments may include classroom instructor recommendations, regular classroom assessments, or evidence-based evaluation tools such as Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills.

  • Select instructor ratios intentionally: This curriculum can be delivered in both small group and one-on-one formats. Small groups should consist of no more than four children per instructor and are best for children without significant literacy deficits or behavioral problems. The one-on-one format is better suited for children who have significant literacy skill deficits and for instructors who are not certified teachers.

  • Follow lesson formats and pacing: Stepping Stones to Literacy produces the best outcomes when instructors follow the lesson plans and calendar closely. The curriculum includes resources such as a Treatment Fidelity Self-Evaluation Form that educators should use to ensure they are on track with the intended delivery.

  • Individualize based on children’s instructional needs: Instructors should adapt lesson plans and instruction methods based on each individual child's needs. This may include adjusting the level of scaffolding provided (i.e., varying the difficulty of tasks), creating opportunities for children to practice newly learned skills within each lesson, or adjusting the pacing within and across lessons.