Reading Knowledge and Skills
Children who entered kindergarten in 1998 differed in the extent to which they demonstrated certain reading abilities—such as recognizing letters and understanding the letter-sound relationship at the beginning and end of words—by their background characteristics. For example, White children scored higher than Black and Hispanic children on these reading skills (West, Denton, and Germino Hausken 2000). In addition, children whose mothers had higher levels of education scored higher in these skills than those whose mothers had less education (West, Denton, and Germino Hausken 2000), as did children from nonpoor families than those from poor families (Denton and West 2002).3 When some of these factors were considered along with other factors that are also associated with children being more at risk of school failure, children from families with multiple risk factors4 scored lower in reading upon kindergarten entry than children with no risk factors, or even one factor (figure 2 and Zill and West 2000).
As in the beginning of kindergarten, children’s reading skills across kindergarten and 1st grade differed by certain characteristics of the child and family. As might be expected, various groups of children showed growth in different areas. During the kindergarten year, as an illustration, children at-risk of school failure5 made gains that helped close the gap between themselves and their more advantaged peers in terms of basic reading skills, such as recognizing letters; however, on more difficult skills, such as reading single words, the gap between these groups widened (i.e., recognizing sight-words) (West, Denton, and Reaney 2001). At the end of 1st grade, differences began to emerge between boys and girls in the extent to which they acquired certain reading skills. After 2 years of formal schooling, girls were more likely than boys to be able to read single words and to read and understand words in context (Denton and West 2002).
Other factors were related to children’s reading skills and knowledge at the start of kindergarten and to their reading achievement at the end of kindergarten and 1st grade. At the beginning of kindergarten, children’s reading skills and knowledge were related to their home literacy environment. Children from a “literacy-rich” home environment (i.e., those who are read to, sung to, and told stories to more frequently and those who have more children’s books, records/audiotapes/CDs in the home) demonstrated higher reading knowledge and skills than other children. This relationship existed whether their families’ income was above or below the federal poverty threshold.
Children’s performance in reading during kindergarten and 1st grade was also related to their home literacy resources upon entering kindergarten (Denton and West 2002). Paralleling the pattern for children upon kindergarten entry, children with rich literacy environments at home were more likely than other children to perform well in reading at the end of both kindergarten and 1st grade. In addition, children who had certain early literacy knowledge and skills (e.g., could recognize letters of the alphabet, recognize numbers and shapes, and understand the concept of the relative size of objects) when they entered kindergarten demonstrated higher reading proficiency in the spring of both kindergarten and 1st grade than children who did not have this knowledge and skills. Figure 3 shows the relationship between children’s proficiency in recognizing letters at kindergarten entry and their specific reading knowledge and skills in the spring of kindergarten.
Similarly, children who frequently demonstrated positive approaches to learning when they entered kindergarten (e.g., persisted at tasks, paid attention, and were eager to learn) had higher reading skills than children who less frequently displayed such behavior. This pattern was found in the spring of both kindergarten and 1st grade (Denton and West 2002). Figure 4 shows the relationship between children’s approaches to learning and their reading skills at the end of kindergarten.
Furthermore, children’s health was related to their reading performance in the early years of school. Children who were in "very good" to "excellent" general health when they entered kindergarten had higher scores in reading in the spring of both kindergarten and 1st grade than those children who were less healthy.
As described above, children’s reading achievement in kindergarten through the 1st grade is related to certain child and family characteristics, including their home literacy environment, early literacy skills, approaches to learning, and general health. These relationships are still present after controlling for children’s poverty status and race/ethnicity (Denton and West 2002). The next section turns to a discussion of children’s early instructional experiences in the classroom.
3In this analysis, children and their families were classified as poor and not poor based on whether the total household income was below the federal poverty threshold or not. U.S. Census information for 1998 was used to establish the thresholds, where a household of four with a total household income of $16,655 was considered to be in poverty. (back to text)
4These risk factors include mother’s education is less than high school, single-parent family, receipt of welfare assistance, and primary home language other than English. (back to text)
5These risk factors of school failure are defined above. (back to text)
Figures and TablesFigure 2: Percentage distribution of kindergartners at each quartile group of the overall skill distribution, by number of risk factors: Fall 1998
Figure 3: Percentage of children demonstrating specific reading knowledge and skills in the spring of kindergarten, by proficiency in recognizing letters at kindergarten entry: Spring 1999
Figure 4: Percentage of children demonstrating specific reading knowledge and skills in the spring of kindergarten, by their approaches to learning at kindergarten entry: Spring 1999
Table FS2: Standard errors for the percentage distribution of kindergartners at each quartile group of the overall skill distribution, by number of risk factors: Fall 1998
Table FS3: Standard errors for the percentage of children demonstrating specific reading knowledge and skills in the spring of kindergarten, by proficiency in recognizing letters at kindergarten entry: Spring 1999