Study Snapshot: Executive Function Deficits in Kindergarten Predict Repeated Academic Difficulties Across Elementary School
 
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For Immediate Release: April 13, 2018

Tony Pals, tpals@aera.net
(202) 238-3235, (202) 288-9333 (cell)

Collin Boylin, cboylin@aera.net
(202) 238-3233, (860) 490-8326 (cell)


Study Snapshot: Executive Function Deficits in Kindergarten Predict Repeated Academic Difficulties Across Elementary School


Study: Executive Function Deficits in Kindergarten Predict Repeated Academic Difficulties Across Elementary School           
Authors: Paul L. Morgan (Pennsylvania State University), George Farkas (University of California, Irvine), Yangyang Wang (Pennsylvania State University), Marianne Hillemeier (Pennsylvania State University), Yoonkyung Oh (Pennsylvania State University), Steven Maczuga (Pennsylvania State University)  

This study will be presented at the 2018 AERA Annual Meeting 
Date/Time: Friday, April 13, 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Main Finding:

  • Deficits in executive functions, especially in working memory, predict kindergarten children’s risk of experiencing repeated academic difficulties from first to third grade. 

Details:

  • For their study, the authors analyzed a sample of 8,330 children participating in the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, 2010–11 Cohort. The database is a nationally representative and longitudinal cohort of U.S. children who entered kindergarten in 2010–11.
  • The authors examined whether and to what extent deficits in cognitive flexibility (the ability to shift attention among multiple aspects of a task and to update responses using new information), working memory (the ability to hold and then manipulate information during a brief time), or inhibitory control (the ability to delay some initial response while attempting to complete a task) in kindergarten predicted children’s academic achievement trajectories from first to third grade.
  • Kindergarten children with working memory deficits had odds of experiencing repeated academic difficulties that were about 10 times greater than children without working memory deficits, controlling for whether children had other types of deficits in executive functions.
  • Overall, deficits in cognitive flexibility, working memory, or inhibitory control by kindergarten each significantly predicted repeatedly low mathematics achievement from first to third grade. Of these specific types of deficits in executive functions, working memory deficits were the most strongly predictive.
  • The authors found that kindergarten children with working memory deficits had odds of experiencing repeated reading difficulties about three times greater than otherwise similar kindergarten children who did not have working memory deficits.
  • The odds that kindergarten children with inhibitory control deficits would experience repeated reading difficulties were about twice as large as for the children without inhibitory control deficits.
  • Kindergarten children with deficits in executive functions were also at risk of experiencing repeated science difficulties. For example, the odds that kindergarten children with working memory deficits would experience repeated science difficulties were twice as large as for those without working memory deficits, controlling for prior achievement, age, race/ethnicity, gender, and family socioeconomic status, as well as other types of deficits in executive functions. Children with deficits in cognitive flexibility and inhibitory control were also at greater risk.
  • For their study, the authors also controlled for children’s sociodemographic characteristics and their domain-general academic achievement (i.e., mathematics, reading, and science achievement) in kindergarten when calculating the risks associated with deficits in executive functions.
  • The study helps to clarify that deficits in working memory, in contrast to those in cognitive flexibility or inhibitory control, may be an especially promising target in early interventions for children at risk for repeated academic difficulties throughout elementary school. Remediating deficits in executive functions may have added value over interventions that only attempt to remediate deficits in academic skills, even interventions targeting academic skills deficits across multiple domains.
  • “Our findings suggest the potential of experimentally evaluated interventions that target both working memory and academic skills deficits for children who are at risk academically during the early years of schooling,” said study co-author Paul L. Morgan, a professor of education and demography at Pennsylvania State University.

To request a copy of the full paper, or to talk to study authors, please contact AERA Communications: Tony Pals, Director of Communications, tpals@aera.net, cell: (202) 288-9333; Collin Boylin, Communications Associate, cboylin@aera.net, cell: (860) 490-8326

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The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. Find AERA on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

 
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