Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Predicting Academic Achievement and Attainment: The Contribution of Early Academic Skills, Attention Difficulties, and Social Competence

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Predicting Academic Achievement and Attainment: The Contribution of Early Academic Skills, Attention Difficulties, and Social Competence

Article excerpt

Which early child characteristics predict long-term academic achievement and educational attainment? Research has focused on the role of early academic skills, learning-enhancing behaviors, and socioemotional competencies as precursors of academic success. Identifying the relative contribution of each to children's long-term academic achievement is important as it can inform the skills on which early education programs should focus.

Early academic skills include basic literacy (e.g., being able to recognize letters, phonemic awareness) and numeracy (e.g., knowledge of numbers and understanding the order of numbers) abilities that position a child to learn from formal instruction (Duncan et al., 2007). Learning-enhancing behaviors include attending to classroom activities, following classroom rules, working cooperatively in groups, and persisting at academic tasks. Children's ability to sustain attention is especially important because "few constructs have a more direct impact on children's academic achievement than their ability to pay attention in the classroom" (Trentacosta & Izzard, 2007, p. 78). Socioemotional competence encompasses a broad range of skills and abilities, including being able to identify and express emotions, engage in adequate self-regulation, and develop positive relations with peers and teachers.

Following from Bronfenbrenner's bioecological model of development (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006), multiple interacting factors influence the development of these skills including child characteristics, processes of recurring social interactions the child experiences (i.e., proximal processes), and the environmental contexts in which these processes occur. For example, the emergence of basic literacy skills depends on the child's ability to absorb and master such knowledge, his or her exposure to experiences that promote early literacy skills, and how proximal and more distal environments support or inhibit his or her acquisition. Moreover, the extent to which these skills--along with attention and socioemotional skills--have developed by school entry may influence children's early educational experiences in a reciprocal manner. As Duncan et al. (2007) noted, "a child's individual characteristics contribute to the environments in which the child interacts and the rate at which the child may learn new skills; in turn, the child receives feedback from others in the environment" (p. 1429). This feedback can influence children's motivation to learn and engage in academic work and their subsequent academic trajectory.

PATHWAYS TO LONG-TERM ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT

Children who enter school with better developed literacy and numeracy skills are likely to receive more positive teacher feedback that motivates subsequent learning; they may also benefit from placement with more advanced students that facilitates additional skill acquisition (Duncan et al., 2007). Poorly developed attention skills at school entry may undermine basic academic skill acquisition because attention difficulties decrease the benefit that children obtain from formal instruction (Rabiner, Coie, & Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group [CPPRG], 2000). Moreover, failing to master basic academic skills can lead to falling further behind over time and becoming less engaged in academic work, thus adversely affecting students' academic trajectory over an extended period (Rabiner, Carrig, & Dodge, 2013). Children with poorly developed social skills are more likely to experience peer rejection and have difficulty establishing supportive relationships with teachers. This can result in an aversion to school and reduced classroom participation (Buhs & Ladd, 2001; Hamre & Pianta, 2001). Over time, rejected students may gravitate toward deviant peers (Fergusson, Woodward, & Horwood, 1999), thus further reducing their academic engagement and undermining their long-term academic success (Veronneau & Dishion, 2011). …

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