A new study, led by researchers at the University of Washington in collaboration with Rebecca Alper, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, and colleagues from the College of Liberal Arts, looked at a comprehensive set of school readiness skills in order to try to determine which is the most solid predictor of a child’s later success. Researchers from the University of Delaware and the University of North Carolina also contributed to the project.
For the study, researchers examined data from more than 1,200 children in the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development's Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. That study used several measures of academic and social skills at specific ages and grade levels, including evaluations upon entry to kindergarten and in grades 1, 3 and 5.
Researchers found that of the skills and milestones evaluated — social/emotional, attention, health, reading, math and language — only language skills, when a child entered school, predicted his or her performance both within that subject area and most others (math, reading and social skills) from first through fifth grade. Reading ability in kindergarten predicted reading, math and language skills later on; and math proficiency correlated with math and reading performance over time.
“We found that early language skills are critical to children’s success in school,” said Alper. “The foundation for success in school starts long before the age of five with frequent, high-quality early communication interactions. Devoting time, energy, and resources to supporting early interaction and language skills during the birth-to-five period offers a large potential return on investment in helping children succeed.