There are multiple pathways to early academic achievement

There are multiple pathways to early academic achievement, reports the NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development studied factors that contribute to children’s early achievement. Quality of parenting emerged as a strong predictor of achievement, but the child-care and school environments also contributed significantly to children’s academic performance. The goal of the study was to examine the academic growth, developing an understanding of the major forces that shape early reading and mathematics skills.

Researchers studied the influence of individual factors such as language and social skills as well as the environmental contexts of home, child care and school. In order to help children at risk for academic underachievement, these researchers sought to develop a coherent model of the early sources of academic achievement. The population of 1,364 young children studied included 24 percent minority children. Academic skills in first grade were measured by the Woodcock-Johnson-Revised Picture Vocabulary Task and the Auditory Comprehension and Expressive Language subtests of the Preschool Language Scale. Social and behavioral skills were measured by a questionnaire completed by mothers.

The strongest single predictor of first-grade achievement was the child’s language at four and one-half years of age. And the higher the social skills at that age, the better the language skills. The home environment had a strong influence on preschool language and social skills, but the child-care environment also influenced a child’s language development. The degree to which parents provided an enriched learning environment, were warm and responsive, and exercised appropriate control and discipline were associated with the level of cognitive and social functioning during the preschool years. Likewise, children exposed to child-care environments that were stimulating and nurturing also tended to demonstrate better cognitive skills prior to entering kindergarten. And first-grade classrooms that rated higher on literacy instruction, evaluative feedback, instructional conversation and encouraged individual responsibility yielded higher reading scores.

It appears that the consequences of poor social skills for the child may include a reduced ability to concentrate and work independently, and an inability to inhibit inappropriate behaviors in a group setting. Having several children in a classroom with immature social and behavioral skills reduces the amount of time available for productive learning. Parents play a clear role in helping their children develop the self control, independence and responsibility necessary for academic success. Child-care environments in this study contributed to language but not to social-skill development.

“Multiple Pathways to Early Academic Achievement,” Harvard Educational Review, Volume 74, Number 1, Spring 2004, pp. 1-29.

Published in ERN May/June 2004 Volume 17 Number 5

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