Research done at CUHK in conjunction with Beijing Normal University and Tel Aviv University.
This study looked at native Chinese speaking kindergarten children in Beijing. But if the results show strongly a positive correlation between the use of Pinyin and reading for native speakers - surely the same would be true for children from non-native speaking families? In fact, surely Pinyin would be even more important for these children who don't live in a Chinese speaking environment?
The abstract includes: Among 296 Chinese kindergarteners in Beijing, independent invented pinyin spelling was found to be uniquely predictive of Chinese word reading 12 months later...The findings further support the idea of a universal phonological principle and indicate that pinyin is potentially an ideal measure of phonological awareness in Chinese.
The Conclusion includes: This study underscores the importance of early Pinyin skills for reading development... the results highlight the importance of Pinyin as an early indicator of Chinese children's phonological sensitivity, that may promote Chinese character recognition.