College of Education > News and Publications > News: Oct. - Dec. 2011 > First-Grade Behavior Has Long-Term Effect on Reading and Mathematics in Later Years, Study Shows

First-Grade Behavior Has Long-Term Effect on Reading and Mathematics in Later Years, Study Shows

The level of school readiness of first-grade students can have an effect on their educational outcomes as they approach middle school.

Bodovski.JPGby Joe Savrock (October 2011)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - The level of school readiness of first-grade students can have an effect on their educational outcomes as they approach middle school, according to a recent study.

Two researchers in Penn State’s Educational Theory and Policy program—faculty member Katerina Bodovski and graduate student Min-Jong Youn—found a strong relationship between first-grade students’ behaviors and skills, and their achievement in reading and mathematics at the end of the fifth grade.

Bodovski and Youn used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K), a large nationally representative dataset for elementary school students. Specifically, the researchers looked at several dimensions of first-grade behavior:
 

  • approaches to learning (e.g., eagerness to learn, attentiveness, and organization)
  • interpersonal skills (e,g., forming friendships, getting along with others)
  • externalizing problem behaviors (e.g., arguing and fighting)
  • internalizing problem behaviors (e.g., anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem).


Of these dimensions, it was the approaches to learning that appears to be the most substantial element in predicting later math and reading achievement. “Although other behaviors may be important for different outcomes, only approaches to learning—often referred to in educational literature as student engagement—had a significant association with later achievement,” noted Bodovski.

She added, “This finding should make sense to many teachers in the elementary schools: As long as children are engaged, interested, and focused on tasks, little disruptions or even arguments among them are less crucial.”

In addition, basic first-grade math and reading skills appeared to be substantial predictors of fifth-grade approaches to learning. This suggests that children with stronger academic skills are more likely to develop positive approaches to learning, including attentiveness, focus, and organization.

Bodovski and Youn reported their findings in the Journal of Early Childhood Research (vol. 9, no. 1, 2011).

In their current work, the researchers are finding that higher school readiness is strongly and positively associated with the likelihood that a student will take Algebra I or above in the eighth grade. The findings of this project suggest that, for minority students and low-income students, improved school readiness can increase the growth rate of math achievement over the elementary and middle school years.

"These findings are crucially important because they show that socio-economic disparities at the beginning of children’s school careers stay mostly the same over the course of the next nine years," said Bodovski. "However, the findings also show that low-income and minority students will benefit the most from boosting their school readiness."