Closer Look 2000
Entering Kindergarten: A Portrait of American Children When They Begin School
Noncognitive Aspects of School Readiness
How do risk factors affect noncognitive aspects of school readiness?
The ECLS-K analyses revealed negative relationships between the risk factors and children's health, social development, and behavior. The more risk factors a child has, the greater the chances that the child is rated by parents as in less than very good health, exhibits classroom conduct problems, and displays less positive approaches to learning. However, not all aspects of children's health and growth are linked in detrimental ways to the risk factors.
Risk factors are linked to poorer child health but not to impaired growth or coordination
Risk factors are generally associated with lower parent ratings of the child's health status and poorer performance on the assessment of fine motor development. Parents' ratings of child health reveal, for example:
- Whereas a majority of children from families with no risk factors (59 percent) are in excellent health, less than half of children from families with one risk factor (44 percent) or multiple risk factors (37 percent) are in comparable health (figure 14).
- Children are four to six times more likely to be described as in fair or poor health if they come from at-risk families than if they come from families with no risk factors.
The more risk factors a child has, the less likely that child is to display fine motor skills that are in the top third of the distribution (figure 15). On the direct assessment of skills involving an activity such as building a tower with blocks or copying designs with a pencil, for example:
- Twenty-six percent of children with multiple risk factors scored in the top third of the distribution on fine motor skills, compared with 30 percent of those with one risk factor, and 41 percent of those with no risk factors.
- Thirty-eight percent of children with multiple risks and 35 percent of children with a single risk factor scored in the lowest third of the distribution of fine motor skills. In contrast, 22 percent of children from families with none of the four risk factors did so. (Data not shown.)
Risk factors generally do not have negative associations with children's physical growth or gross motor development. The average height and weight of male kindergartners with a single family risk or even multiple risk factors are similar to the height and weight of boys from families with no risk factors (figure 16). However, females from families with one risk or multiple risks are, on average, one inch shorter and one pound heavier than females from families with no risk factors (figure 17). Children's performance on the assessment of gross motor development varies little with the number of family-risk factors (figure 15). However, the percentage of children in the lowest third of the distribution in gross motor performance is somewhat larger among children from families with one risk (29 percent) or multiple risks (28 percent) than among children from families with no risk factors (25 percent). (Data not shown.)
At-risk children are less likely to be socially adept and more likely to be aggressive
Teachers report that a majority of children from higher risk family environments make friends readily and accept peers' ideas. Nonetheless, the percentages of at-risk children who engage in these positive social behaviors are generally smaller than among children from lower risk family environments. According to teacher ratings, for example:
- Two-thirds of children from multiple-risk families and 72 percent of those from single risk families often accepted peers' ideas for group activities. In comparison, 77 percent of children from families with no risk factors did so (figure 18).
- Seventy percent of children from multiple-risk families and 73 percent of those from single-risk families often made and maintained friendships. The comparable proportion was 81 percent for children from no-risk families.
- No more than half of children from multiple-risk families (43 percent) or single-risk families (48 percent) often comforted or helped their classmates. In contrast, 55 percent of children from families with no risk factors displayed these behaviors.
According to teachers, a minority of children from higher risk family environments engage in angry or combative behavior often. The size of the minority is larger among at-risk children than among those from other family environments. According to teachers, for example:
- Twice as many children from multiple risk families (14 versus 7 percent of those from families with no risk factors) and about as many from single-risk families (12 percent) often fight with their classmates (figure 19).
- Similar proportions of children from multiple risk and single risk families get angry easily (14 and 13 percent, respectively, versus 10 percent of those from families with no risk factors) and argue with others frequently (15 and 13 percent, respectively, versus 9 percent of the lower risk group).
Fewer at-risk children have a positive approach to learning activities
Kindergarten teachers describe most at-risk kindergartners as exhibiting a positive approach to classroom learning activities. Even among those from multiple-risk families, majorities seem eager to learn new things, pay attention, and persist in learning tasks often or very often. Despite this evidence, the percentages who display these positive approaches to learning are considerably smaller than among children from families with no risk factors. Conversely, larger proportions of at-risk children display these positive approaches rarely or never. According to teacher ratings:
- Thirty-six percent of children from multiple risk families are eager to learn no more than "sometimes" or "never," compared with 20 percent of children from families with no risk factors. Children from single risk families fall in between, with 30 percent being described as being eager to learn "sometimes" or "never."
- Almost half of kindergartners from multiple risk families (44 percent) "sometimes" or "never" pay attention well. The comparable proportions are 39 percent of children from single-risk families and 28 percent of those from lower risk families.
- Thirty-eight percent of children from multiple risk families rarely persist in completing classroom tasks. In comparison, 33 percent of children from single risk families and 23 percent from families with no risk factors rarely persist.