Preschool inattention and conduct problems linked to reduced exam scores

New research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry has used data from the University of Bristol Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) to investigate whether preschool hyperactivity/inattention and conduct problems are independently associated with academic outcomes at age 16.

Adverse effects were apparent in both boys and girls (n = 11,640). For boys, hyperactivity/inattention scores were associated with reductions of 10 GCSE points, and borderline and abnormal conduct problem scores were associated with reductions of 9–10 and 12–15 points respectively. For girls, early conduct problems rather than hyperactivity/inattention were important, with reductions of 9 and 12 points for borderline and abnormal scores respectively.

The authors say that there is a strong argument for the early identification of behavioural problems, and that this needs to be linked to appropriate interventions to be effective. They also suggest that teachers should be aware of the long-term implications of early behavioural difficulties, particularly for children they might regard as being at risk, and to take parental concerns about behaviour problems seriously.

Source: Pre-school Hyperactivity/Attention Problems and Educational Outcomes in Adolescence: Prospective Longitudinal Study (2013), British Journal of Psychiatry.

What works in education around the world?

This report from the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement and the TIMSS PIRLS International Study Center at Boston College presents data from 9-10 year-old pupils in 34 countries who took both the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) assessments in 2011. Home environment information was also available because the PIRLS assessment includes a parent questionnaire. In total over 180,000 children, 170,000 parents, 14,000 teachers, and 6,000 school leaders participated in these two studies worldwide.

According to the authors, their analyses of the data suggest that, across countries, there are a number of school and home factors that can positively affect achievement in reading, mathematics, and science at the Year 5 level. For example, they say that when parents engage children in early literacy activities, it can help children develop both literacy and numeracy skills. The early literacy activities they mention include reading books, telling stories, singing songs, playing with alphabet toys, talking about things you’ve done or have read, playing word games, writing letters or words, and reading aloud signs and labels.

Source: TIMSS and PIRLS 2011: Relationships Among Reading, Mathematics, and Science Achievement at the Fourth Grade—Implications for Early Learning (2013), TIMSS PIRLS International Study Center.

Helping children prepare to succeed

Child Trends has released a new research brief on school readiness that aims to answer the question: Will children be ready to succeed in school, and how best can we support their success? The information is based on the work of Child Trends with US state policy makers and a review of existing literature on the topic. They offer the following five “things to know”:

  1. School readiness is a puzzle with multiple pieces, and families, communities, and schools all share responsibility in putting the pieces together to support children’s success in school.
  2. There are five areas of skills and development that will help young children be ready to succeed in school. These are health and physical development, social and emotional development, language and communication, approaches to learning, and cognitive development and general knowledge.
  3. It is especially important to think about high-quality early childhood experiences for children at risk of later difficulties in school. Research has shown that children from low-income families benefit from high-quality early care and education.
  4. School readiness starts at birth. Children’s early experiences, particularly from birth to age five, are critical to their brain development and lifelong health.
  5. School readiness assessment should have a clear purpose and be comprehensive.

Maternal supportiveness boosts school readiness

A new article in Early Childhood Research Quarterly investigates two aspects of children’s school readiness: interest in new cognitive tasks and persistence in task completion. The study examined these two behaviours at ages one, two, and three in a large multi-site sample, using data on 1,771 low-income children taken from the US Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project. The authors looked at whether interest and persistence are linked to academic skills at school entry, and found that children’s interest and persistence at age three predicted academic achievement at age five.

The article also explored the impact of parenting on these behaviours. During videotaped play sessions, mothers were rated on scales of sensitivity (taking the child’s perspective, accurate perception of the child’s signals, prompt and appropriate responses to these signals), and stimulation of cognitive development (teaching or actively trying to expand the child’s abilities). The authors found that maternal supportiveness predicted higher levels of interest and persistence between the ages of one and three, with both behaviours more responsive to parenting between ages one and two than two and three.

Children from underprivileged backgrounds generally enter school lagging behind their peers on a range of indicators. The article concludes that although relatively little attention has been paid to the early development of these particular learning behaviours – interest and persistence – they might prove worthy of intervention before school entry, particularly when children are aged one

Source: Longitudinal Associations Among Interest, Persistence, Supportive Parenting, and Achievement in Early Childhood (2013), Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(4).

Words taught in context boost children’s language

Children vary greatly in the number of words they know when they enter school, and this is a major factor influencing their subsequent school and workplace success. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that contextualised speech input from parents during the second year of children’s lives correlated with the size of their vocabularies three years later.

The researchers asked 218 adult participants to guess 50 parents’ words from muted videos of their interactions with their 14- to 18-month-old children. They found systematic differences in how easily individual parents’ words could be identified purely from this socio-visual context. For example, it is easier for children to acquire the meaning of “zebra” in the visual presence of a zebra (“There goes a zebra!”) than in its absence (“Let’s visit the zebras in the zoo”). Moreover, differences in this kind of input quality correlated with the size of the children’s vocabulary three years later.

It is already known that the quantity of words that children hear is an important determinant of their subsequent vocabularies, both for types (different words) and tokens (number of words heard, including repetitions). These quantity differences are correlated with socio-economic status (SES), with children from low-SES homes typically exposed to fewer words early in development. In this research, although the quantity of words differed as a function of SES, input quality did not. The authors suggest that the quality of nonverbal cues to word meaning that parents offer to their children is an individual matter, widely distributed across the population of parents.

Source: Quality of Early Parent Input Predicts Child Vocabulary 3 Years Later (2013), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(28).

Lengthening time in preschool is good! Or is it?

new article published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly indicates that receiving an additional year of preschool education benefits disadvantaged children. The authors conducted a study of children participating in a daily preschool programme in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who were largely from disadvantaged backgrounds. They compared the outcomes of the children who participated for two years (entering at age three) and one year (entering at age four). Assessments were conducted simultaneously across participating schools by a team of research assistants in the autumn of each year. The findings showed that receiving a second year of preschool led to significant improvements in the children’s early literacy and numeracy skills and school readiness.

However, a new paper by Canadian researchers offers a different perspective. The authors investigated the long-term effects of the length of early childhood education using a variation created by a policy experiment in British Columbia in the late 1980s. The experiment resulted in a period where some children attended kindergarten for only six months, and others for sixteen months (compared to the usual ten months). The pupils were tracked over time, and of the original sample, 82,499 pupils were tracked as far as their grade ten (age 16/17) maths and reading tests. The authors found that “long kindergarten” reduced grade ten maths scores by about 2.6% of a standard deviation, and reading scores by about 6.2% of a standard deviation, though only the latter is statistically significant. The findings also implied that being in kindergarten longer increased the probability of grade repetition. Negative effects were highest for disadvantaged pupils and males. However, the authors note that the strong negative effect for long kindergarten may also arise from larger class sizes, the relatively lower age for this group, and the fact that they may have spent time in a low-quality kindergarten instead of being at home or in formal daycare.

Sources: One Versus Two Years: Does Length of Exposure to an Enhanced Preschool Program Impact the Academic Functioning of Disadvantaged Children in Kindergarten? (2013), Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(4).

The Long-run Impacts of Early Childhood Education: Evidence from a Failed Policy Experiment (2013), Economics of Education Review, 36.