By the End of First Grade, Most Children Are Doing Well, But Those Who Started Kindergarten Less Prepared Still Haven’t “Caught Up”

JAN 28, 2013

Washington, DC – The No Child Left Behind Act has brought renewed attention to the need to raise the achievement levels of children who lag behind their peers academically, spurring a host of initiatives at the state and local levels to close the achievement gap.

Within this context, Child Trends has just released a new online data brief that examines indicators of well-being and development among children entering kindergarten and describes changes in these indicators as children move from kindergarten to first grade.Indicators of Early School Success and Child Well-Being pays particular attention to differences in children’s progress on these indicators by gender, race and ethnicity, language spoken at home, disability status, and socioeconomic status.

Data on many of the topics covered in the brief are also available on the Child Trends DataBank.

Indicators of Early School Success and Child Well-Being draws on nationally representative data collected by the U.S. Department of Education to look at indicators (statistical markers) in four main areas: cognitive knowledge and skills, social skills, engagement in school, and physical well-being. Based on analyses of the data, the Child Trends researchers report that by the end of first grade:

  • Most children demonstrated substantial progress in their acquisition of cognitive knowledge and skills (based on scores on tests of math, reading, and general knowledge);
  • Nearly nine out of ten were engaged in school (based on parent and teacher reports);
  • More than one-half developed positive social skills (based on parent and teacher reports); and
  • Nearly nine out of ten were not overweight (based on body mass index ratings)

“Alongside these encouraging findings were some troubling ones,” says Sharon Vandivere, lead author of the brief.  “This progress differed significantly across socioeconomic and demographic groups.  Our study shows that by the end of first grade, black and Hispanic children consistently fared worse than non-Hispanic white children on every indicator examined, as did children in non-English-speaking households, children with disabilities, and children in families with lower socioeconomic status.  These were the same groups that entered kindergarten less prepared than their peers.  Unfortunately, then, what we’re seeing is that differences on these indicators among socioeconomic and demographic subgroups of children persist over time.”

Indicators of Early School Success and Child Well-Being was based on Child Trends’ analyses of data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Kindergarten Class of 1998-99, which is being carried out by the National Center for Education Statistics.  The Center began collecting data on more than 20,000 children who were kindergartners during the 1998-99 school year and is following these children over time, most recently in the spring of 2004.

The brief is part of a series of data briefs, called CrossCurrents, from the Child Trends DataBank that looks across a variety of related indicators of child well-being.

Child Trends, founded in 1979, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers.