1. Education
Kendra Cherry

What’s the Best Predictor of School Success?

By March 2, 2009

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The growth of early childhood programs has led to an increased emphasis on the development of academic skills, social skills and behavioral skills. But which factor is the best predictor of later success in school?

In previous studies, both teachers and researchers have suggested that a number of factors including poor academic skills, difficulties following directions and a lack of social skills are an impediment to school readiness and later success. Because of this, some experts have suggested that early childhood education should focus on building behavioral, social and emotional skills just as much as building academic skills.

According to a large-scale study published in Developmental Psychology, one of the best predictor's of later school success is early academic and attention skills.
"These two views have emerged in the current debate about what constitutes school readiness and in particular about what skills predict school achievement. Many early education programs, including Head Start, are designed to enhance children's physical, intellectual, and social competencies on the grounds that each domain contributes to a child's overall developmental competence and readiness for school. However, if early acquisition of specific academic skills or learning-enhancing behaviors forecasts later achievement, it may be beneficial to add domain-specific early skills to the definition of school readiness and to encourage interventions aimed at promoting these skills prior to elementary school. Thus, understanding which skills are linked to children's academic achievement has important implications for early education programs."
In this study led by economist Greg J. Duncan, PhD, of Northwestern University, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of the results of six large-scale longitudinal studies. The findings suggest that an early understanding math concepts is the most powerful predictor of later school success. Other predictors of later success included language, reading and attention skills. Surprisingly, social and behavioral problems had virtually no impact on later school success.

One important factor to note is that the sample used in this study was drawn from a general population, so these results don't necessarily apply to children who are diagnosed with behavioral or social problems. The researchers also point out that problematic behaviors in the classroom, such as being disruptive, may actually hurt the achievement of other children more than the individual student.

The authors also note that:
"...academic skills are only one facet of educational success, and improvements in problem behavior or social skills may better predict other important school outcomes, such as a child's engagement in school and motivation for learning, relationships with peers and teachers, and overall self-concept and school adjustment."
Duncan, G.J, et. Al. (2007). School Readiness and Later Achievement. Developmental Psychology, Vol. 43, No. 6. Full Text in PDF Format

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March 31, 2009 at 4:17 pm
(1) Lauren says:

Great article. But educators and parents shouldn’t stop building these skills as kids get older. The research shows that a positive climate for learning (involving high social emotional security, social and civic learning, respect for differences, etc) can also help students succeed. A school’s commitment to improving the learning environment has huge school-wide and individual student implications, such as reduced dropout rates, violence and bullying, student engagement – and also help the teachers and administration regarding retention and attrition.

Keep up the great posts.

April 22, 2010 at 3:48 pm
(2) Nvmd says:

I disagree with this study completely. It is my experience, as an early childhood educator, that the number one indicator of school success is parental support.

The number one indicator of school failure, in my research, is lack of parental support. Number two, underfunded, understaffed, and unqualified early childhood programs.

If you want children to succeed, start with the parents.

October 11, 2010 at 4:18 pm
(3) concerned says:

It is misleading to say this study concludes that “the best predictor of later school success is early academic and attention skills.” The actual study itself is a model of caution about its findings and is riddled with caveats, for example:

“…we may have stacked the deck in favor of our school-entry achievement measures…most of the outcomes are measured during children’s elementary school years. Achievement in the middle and high school years involves increasingly complex reading and mathematical tasks, and it may be that general cognitive skills, particularly oral language and conceptual abilities, are necessary skills for comprehension and advanced problem solving…Despite our extensive investigation of the robustness of our key results, any non- experimental analysis using imperfectly measured cognitive, achievement, and behavioral constructs such as ours cannot rule out all threats to its conclusions.”

You do readers a disservice by spreading a false meme about the solidity of this study’s conclusions.

April 7, 2011 at 3:44 pm
(4) marylee says:

here is an interesting article about children and successhttp://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/01/sing-out-clara/

August 13, 2011 at 1:38 am
(5) M Gandhi says:

I think the data mostly shows self discipline/will power is the best predictor, as in this study from the University of Chicago. “A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety” http://www.pnas.org/content/108/7/2693

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