Strong instructional and emotional support make difference for at-risk first grade students

iStock_000014442615XSmallA program that identifies at-risk students at the beginning of first grade and gives them strong instructional and emotional support can raise them to the same level of academic achievement as their low risk peers. Students placed in less-supportive environments had lower academic achievement and more conflicts with teachers.

The research by Bridget K. Hamre and Robert C. Pianta is based on a survey of 910 children from around the country who participated in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care. They were selected on the basis of demographic characteristics and behavioral, attention, academic or social problems reported by their kindergarten teachers.

Low maternal education is key factor

The researchers note that low maternal education is one of the key demographic factors that can put a child at risk. For the purposes of this study, the cut-off point was less than a 4-year college degree. About 27% of the mothers in the sample did not have a college degree.

The researchers note also that the functional factors reported by kindergarten teachers are “established predictors of success or failure in the next grade(s). Children identified by their teachers as displaying difficulties in these domains in the early school years are at a higher risk of problems throughout their school careers.

According to Hamre and Pianta, high-quality instructional was defined as frequent and effective use of literacy instruction, evaluative feedback, instructional conversations, and encouragement of child responsibility.

Children of mothers with lower levels of education did just as well as their peers with educated mothers when they were placed in classrooms with high-to-moderate instruction support. In contrast, students of mothers with less than 4-year degrees showed significantly lower achievement when they were in classrooms with less support.

Similar results were found for high functional, at-risk children. Achievement was highest in classrooms where “where teachers were aware of and responsive to individual students’ needs, offered effective and proactive behavior management, and created a positive classroom climate in which teachers and students enjoyed each other and their time in the classroom.”

High function at-risk children did about as well on the first-grade Woodcock Johnson tests as their low-risk peers while high-risk children in less supportive classrooms made significantly less progress.

While the researchers note that the results suggest possible pathways to reduce gaps between children in performance, they add that “recent evidence suggests great variability in the quality of classroom environments as well as the in the stability of quality from year to year, even within the same school.”

They caution that “if children are not systematically exposed to high levels of classroom support across time, the effects of such positive placements are likely to be short-lived.”

“Can Instructional and Emotional Support in the First-Grade Classroom Make a Difference for Children at Risk of School Failure?”, Child Development, Volume 76, Number 5, September/October 2005, pp. 949-967

Published in ERN November/December 2005 Volume 18 Number 9

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