Children who enter kindergarten with reading and math skills are the most likely to do well later in school, report Northwestern University's Greg J. Duncan, PhD, and Amy Claessens, PhD, in the November Developmental Psychology (Vol. 43, No. 6).
"We talk a lot about early reading skills and reading to your child, but we don't talk about math," says Claessens. "Doing numbers and basic math skills are also really important."
The researchers were surprised to find that behavioral problems, such as fighting with classmates or being sad or withdrawn, were generally insignificant predictors of later academic performance. They did, however, find that later academic achievement is yoked to attention skills such controlling hyperactive behavior and staying on task.
In the study, the researchers sought to examine whether the recent push by politicians and researchers to improve children's early cognitive skills through programs such as Head Start came at the expense of social and behavioral skills. They analyzed data on 15,000 children from six longitudinal studies conducted in the United States, Canada and Great Britain. Each study measured academic achievement and behavior from around the time of school entry up to age 14. The researchers then performed a meta-analysis of the studies' results and found that math skills had the greatest predictive power of later ability, followed by reading and attention.