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Could you be worrying unnecessarily about your child’s academic future? Educators have long thought that a pre-school child’s ability to follow orders, their ability to work independently and in a group, a display of academic skills, language and social and emotional aptitude are all indicators that a child will do well academically later in school life.

However, one piece of research has come up with findings that show certain factors are more reliable in making that prediction than others. The result showed that children with behaviourial problems or who don’t read well won’t necessarily be held back in their academic abilities as they progress through school.

Continuing research by UC Irvine Professor of Education Greg Duncan involved Duncan and colleagues identifying six population-based data sets involving 16,387 children that included measures of reading and math competency, attention skills and pro-social behaviour, as well as antisocial and internalising behaviour taken around the time of school entry, and measures of reading and math competency taken later in the primary or early secondary school years.

The researchers found that only three of the school-entry measures predicted subsequent academic success: early reading, early math and attention skills.

“Early math skills were most consistently predictive,” Duncan says.

Conversely, the study showed that early behaviour problems and social skills were not associated with later achievement and this was the case across all studies and within each of the six data sets examined.

Duncan and Katherine Magnuson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison completed a second study using two large data sets of 2,843 children and performed the same measurements. Corroborating the first set of research, the results revealed that K-5 students who persistently displayed low math skills were 13% less likely to graduate from high school and 29% less likely to attend college. In contrast to the first study, displaying persistent anti-social behaviours was also a predictor but inability to pay attention was not.

Clearly more needs to be done to understand predictors of academic success.

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