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Utah i3 Evaluation Research Overview

In 2013 the Waterford Institute was awarded a grant from the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) to fund the validation of “Utah Preparing Students Today for a Rewarding Tomorrow (UPSTART)”, a pilot project that uses a home-based adaptive computer program to develop the school readiness skills of children residing in rural Utah. Launched in 2014, the project will take place over five years and serve communities in rural school districts across the state that have traditionally had less access to educational resources.

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The UPSTART preschool program is a computer-based software program that provides pre-kindergarteners with individualized reading instruction, and the UPSTART Summer program is an adaptive computer program used by elementary school children in the summers after kindergarten, first and second grades to forestall learning decay that can undermine academic success. To study the project’s effectiveness in advancing children’s literacy skills, ETI designed two studies to evaluate the UPSTART preschool program and the UPSTART Summer program for elementary school students. ETI also conducted an implementation study of the UPSTART project to assess the extent to which the intervention was implemented as intended.


In the preschool study, children were randomly assigned to the UPSTART Reading program or to the UPSTART Math program. Standardized tests were administered at baseline and a year later to assess children’s early literacy skills and results indicated that children in UPSTART Reading had significantly higher scores on letter recognition, phoneme manipulation, phonological awareness, and ability to decode common words and pre-primer vocabulary compared to their counterparts enrolled in UPSTART Math. 


In the quasi-experimental elementary school study, children enrolled in the UPSTART Summer program were compared to a group of comparison students statistically matched on baseline outcome scores who did not participate in the program. Students were administered a standardized literacy test at the end of the kindergarten school year before program commencement and at the beginning of the first grade. Preliminary results indicated that UPSTART Summer students had higher composite scores at the beginning of first grade and higher scores on a letter naming subtest than their counterparts who did not participate in the program.


In addition, ETI will evaluate the project implementation across the districts and report on challenges and successes faced during the project. Evaluation findings will be used by educators, researchers, and practitioners, and will inform a national evaluation of all i3 grant projects.

Start Year: 2014

Projected End Year: 2019

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