What are early red flags of future learning problems in children? Many researchers have looked at different school readiness indicators, such as size of vocabulary, language development and behavioral measures, to see how they correlate with a child’s performance later on in school.
A new study in Child Development takes a more holistic, person-oriented approach to school readiness and uses 6 profiles of preschoolers to look for patterns in 5th-grade achievement.
The results highlight the importance of social competence in school achievement. After controlling for demographic factors, the researchers found that children with high social competence and average executive functioning at 54 months were high achievers in 5th grade and children with social and externalizing problems and average working memory were low achievers in 5th grade.
Children with low working memory had more socioemotional problems in 5th grade, providing further evidence of an association between executive functioning and social outcomes, the authors write. Working memory refers to the extent children can pay attention, remember important information and track their progress on any given task, the authors write.
The profiles used in the study were developed through cluster analysis of a sample of 944 children who took a battery of tests at 54 months as part of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care. The tests (see list below) measured children’s executive functioning skills, social skills and working memory.
“In the present study, high working memory and high social skills seemed to compensate for weaknesses in other domains,” the researchers write. Children with attention problems, as defined by inhibitory control, fared better than expected. They had relatively average or above average academic performance and good socio-emotional skills in 5th grade, according to the authors.
“Results indicate that a child’s inability to block out interferences in early childhood, without any other weaknesses in other domains, does not seem to place a child at risk for future academic problems,” the researchers write.
“Our findings suggest that children with early attention problems, average social skills and average working memory have relatively positive academic outcomes.”
The profiling approach proved to be more predictive of math achievement in 5th grade while demographic characteristics and early literacy skills were better predictors of 5th-grade outcomes in general, according to the study.
The 6 school-readiness patterns were: attention problems (10% of sample), low working memory (7%), low –to-average social skills and working memory (20%), social and externalizing problems (17%), high social competence (24%), and high working memory and mild externalizing. (22%).
“It is important to note that profile names indicate the most distinguishing feature of functioning across a battery of multidimensional school readiness assessments. The construct used to label the profile (e.g., Profile 1, Attention Problems) may not solely account for the association with fifth-grade outcomes but rather the combination of skills present at 54 months,” the researchers write.
About 12% of the children in this NICHD sample lived below the poverty level; 30% of the children’s families were at some point identified as living below the poverty level for between 1 and 36 months;. 82.6% of the sample were white, followed by African American, 9.9%.
The school readiness measures used in the battery of tests at 54 months were as follows:
Socioemotional skills and behaviors:
Social skills — mother-reported Social Skills Rating System (SSQ: Gresham & Elliott, 1990),
Externalizing behaviors — mother-reported Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL; Achenbach, 1991
Positive engagement –observation of a semi-structured mother-child interaction.
Memory for Sentences and Incomplete Words, subsets from the Woodcock–Johnson Tests of Cognitive Ability. Memory for Sentences assessed children’s ability to use sentences’meaning to aid in retrieval and Incomplete Words assessed their ability to identify words with one or more missing phonemes (Woodcock & Johnson, 1990).
Omission Errors were assessed through the Continuous Performance Test, a computer-generated task that counted the number of times children missed pushing a button for a target stimulus, indicating children’s sustained attention problems (CPT; Halperin, Sharman, Greenblat, & Schwartz, 1991).
Sabol, Terri J. and Robert C. Pianta. “Patterns of School Readiness Forecast Achievement and Socioemotional Development at the End of Elementary School.” Child Development. 83.1 (January/February 2012): 282–299.