NCES Blog

National Center for Education Statistics

Children’s approaches to learning and academic achievement in the early grades

By Grace Kena

Children’s skills early in school are of interest to educators and policy makers due, in part, to their association with school achievement in the later grades. NCES assesses children’s knowledge and measures their skills through data collections such as the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011).

This study collected information from a sample of students at kindergarten entry as well as from their parents and their teachers, and will continue to follow the students through the early elementary grades. Through the ECLS-K:2011, NCES conducted direct assessments and gathered information related to other aspects of students’ development, including socioemotional development and approaches to learning. As part of the study, students’ teachers were asked to report on how the kindergartners approached learning by examining and reporting on seven behaviors: paying attention, persisting in completing tasks, showing eagerness to learn new things, working independently, adapting easily to changes in routine, keeping belongings organized, and following classroom rules.

Findings from The Condition of Education 2015 show that first-time kindergartners who demonstrated these positive learning behaviors “very often” in the fall of kindergarten had higher average reading and mathematics assessment scores than kindergartners who demonstrated these behaviors less often. First-time kindergartners who “never” exhibited the seven approaches to learning behaviors in the fall of kindergarten not only scored lower in reading and mathematics in the fall than children who had more positive learning approaches, but they continued to score lower than the other groups when the children were assessed again in the spring of their kindergarten year and in the spring of their first grade year.


Average mathematics scale scores of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners, by frequency of positive approaches to learning behaviors in fall of kindergarten year: Fall 2010, spring 2011, and spring 2012

Figure. Average mathematics scale scores of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners, by frequency of positive approaches to learning behaviors in fall of kindergarten year: Fall 2010, spring 2011, and spring 2012

NOTE: Possible scores for the mathematics assessments range from 0 to 96. Frequency of positive approaches to learning behaviors is derived from kindergartners' fall 2010 Approaches to Learning scale scores.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, ECLS-K:2011. See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 220.40.


As an example of these differences, the average fall kindergarten mathematics score for students who “very often” showed positive learning behaviors was 36 points, compared to 18 points for children who “never” demonstrated positive learning behaviors. When measured again in the spring of the kindergarten year, the average mathematics score for children who had “never” demonstrated positive learning behaviors at the beginning of the kindergarten year (29 points) remained below the fall average score for those children who had exhibited positive approaches to learning “very often.”

For more information on approaches to learning and kindergarten and first grade achievement, including breakdowns for children of different demographic groups, see the spotlight on this topic in The Condition of Education 2015, or watch the video below. 

Meeting policy needs for new data sources: Measuring work-related credentials

By Sharon Boivin

In the late 2000s, rising unemployment due to the recession led policy makers to begin asking questions about the qualifications of the American workforce, such as:

  • How many US adults have an education or training credential that is recognized by employers?
  • How many adults complete at least one year of education or training beyond high school? Do they also earn a credential?
  • What are the employment outcomes for adults with these credentials?

But key data to answer these questions were missing. The federal government had collected data on educational attainment and employment for many years, but did not regularly collect information on the number of adults with work-related credentials—

  • An industry-recognized certification shows that someone has demonstrated he or she has the knowledge and skills to perform a job.
  • An occupational license gives someone the legal authority to perform a job, and typically is also based on demonstrated knowledge and skills.
  • An educational certificate shows that someone has completed an occupational or technical course of study at a technical school, college, or university.

As the Department of Education’s research and statistics arm, IES recognized the importance of filling this data gap so that policy officials could have complete and accurate information for better decision making. Since 2009, the IES’ National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has funded and staffed a rigorous survey item development process under the guidance of the Interagency Working Group on Expanded Measures of Enrollment and Attainment (GEMEnA)

Based on GEMEnA’s work, in January of 2014 the Census Bureau released the first official federal statistics on the number of adults with these kinds of work-related credentials. This year the Current Population Survey and the National Survey of College Graduates are collecting data on certifications and licenses that will greatly expand our ability to analyze their value in the workplace.  In 2016, NCES will field an Adult Training and Education Survey for the first time as part of the National Household Education Survey. 

Rigorous survey item development is time consuming and expensive. By investing in this work now, IES has helped to ensure that policy makers will have high quality data on education, training, and credentials to inform policy for years to come.

Public school safety and discipline: New data on practices, procedures, and violent incidents at school

By Lauren Musu-Gillette and Tom Snyder

Crime and violence at school not only affects the individuals involved, but also may disrupt the educational process and affect bystanders, the school itself, and the surrounding community [1]. There are many different components to measuring students’ safety at school, and NCES conducts and supports regular surveys on school crime and safety. Our new report, Public School Safety and Discipline, 2013-14 provides data on school safety practices and procedures, and also contains school reports of school crime incidents [2].

Improvements in monitoring and communication can help to ensure students, teachers, and parents have the information they need at the right moment. There have been increases in the use of some types of technology in schools. For example, the percentage of schools that used one or more security cameras to monitor the school in 2013-14 (75 percent) was higher than it was in 2009-10 (61 percent). The percentage of schools which had an electronic notification system that automatically notifies parents in case of a school-wide emergency was also higher in 2013-14 (82 percent) than in 2009-10 (63 percent). Further, the percentage of schools which had a structured anonymous threat reporting system (e.g. online submission, telephone hotline, or written submission via dropbox) was higher in 2013-14 (47 percent) than in 2009-10 (36 percent). The percentage of schools that prohibited student use of cell phones and text messaging was lower in 2013-14 (76 percent) than in 2009-10 (91 percent).

Another indication of the level of safety at school is the percentage of schools reporting that violent incidences occurred during the school year. It is important to note that the nature of the NCES data collections on school crime do not enable cause and effect linkages between activities designed to improve school safety and actual decreases in school crime.  Overall, the percentage of public schools reporting that a violent incident occurred at school [3] was lower in 2013-14 (65 percent) than in 2009-10 (74 percent) [4]. Also, the percentage of schools reporting a serious violent crime was lower in 2013-14 (13 percent) than in 2009-10 (16 percent).  In 2013-14, there were about 16 violent crimes per 1,000 students compared to 25 per 1,000 students in 2009-10.


Percentage of public schools reporting selected discipline problems that occurred at school at least once a week: 2009-10 and 2013-14

Figure. Percentage of public schools reporting selected discipline problems that occurred at school at least once a week: 2009-10 and 2013-14
NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about crime and safety issues at the school.
SOURCE: School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) 2009–10 and School Safety and Discipline 2013-14.

In addition to crimes, discipline problems at school are also of interest. Several types of discipline problems were reported at lower rates in 2013-14 than in 2009-10, including: student racial/ethnic tensions, student bullying, student sexual harassment of other students, and student harassment of other students based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  For example, 15.7 percent of schools reported that student bullying happens at least weekly in 2013-14, compared to 23.1 percent of schools in 2009-10. There were no measurable differences in the percentage of schools reporting, “widespread disorder in classrooms,” “student verbal abuse of teachers,” or “student acts of disrespect for teachers other than verbal abuse.”

In addition to this new report on school crime, NCES produces an annual summary report on school crime, Indicators of School Crime and Safety. Also, NCES has recently released a series of tabulations on bullying that showed bullying rates are lower in 2013 than they were in 2011


[1] Brookmeyer, K.A., Fanti, K.A., and Henrich, C.C. (2006). Schools, Parents, and Youth Violence: A Multilevel, Ecological Analysis. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 35(4):504–514.; Goldstein, S.E., Young, A., and Boyd, C. (2008). Relational Aggression at School: Associations With School Safety and Social Climate. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 37: 641–654.

[2] This blog compares estimates from Public School Safety and Discipline: 2013–14 and School Survey on Crime and Safety. Respondents to the Public School Safety and Discipline: 2013-14 were offered options of completing the survey on paper or online.  The School Survey on Crime and Safety was conducted as a mail survey with telephone follow-up.  Differences in these survey methods may impact inferences.

[3] “At school” was defined as activities happening in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at places that hold school-sponsored events or activities.

[4] Respondents were asked to report the number of incidents, not number of victims or offenders.

Measuring student safety: Bullying rates at school

By Lauren Musu-Gillette, Rachel Hansen, Kathryn Chandler, and Tom Snyder

Bullying remains a serious issue for students and their families, and efforts to reduce bullying concern policy makers, administrators, and educators. Measuring the extent of the problem, as well as tracking any progress towards reducing the prevalence of bullying, is of utmost importance and why NCES is committed to providing reliable and timely data on important topics such as bullying. NCES provides additional context for understanding this issue in our schools by publishing comparative data on different student groups, as well as data on changes over time in students’ reports of being bulled at school.

The School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey collects data on bullying by asking a nationally representative sample of students ages 12–18 if they had been bullied at school. In 2013, about 22 percent of students reported being bullied at school during the school year. This percentage was lower than the percentage reported in every prior survey year in which these data were collected (28 percent each in 2005, 2009, and 2011 and 32 percent in 2007).

Similarly, lower percentages of students reporting being bullied in 2013 were observed across some student characteristics. For example, in 2013 about 24 percent of female students reported being bullied at school, compared with 29 to 33 percent in prior survey years. The pattern for males was similar. The percentage of students who reported being bullied in 2013 was also lower than the percentages in all prior survey years for White and Black students. For Hispanic and Asian students, the percentage of students who reported being bullied in 2013 was lower than the percentages in both 2007 and 2009.


Percentage of students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, by gender: Selected years, 2005 through 2013

This graph shows three lines representing the total percentage of students bullied at school in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013, as well as the percentage of males and females who report being bullied at school. The percentage goes up between 2005 and 2007 for all groups, it goes down between 2007 and 2009 for all groups, it goes up between 2009 and 2011 for all groups and it goes down between 2011 and 2013 for all groups. The line for females is higher than the total line and the line for males for all points in time. The line for males is lower than the other lines at all points in time.

NOTE: "At school" includes the school building, on school property, on a school bus, or going to and from school.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2005 through 2013.


In 2013, a higher percentage of females than of males ages 12–18 reported being bullied at school during the school year (24 vs. 19 percent). A higher percentage of White students (24 percent) than of Hispanic students (19 percent) and Asian students (9 percent) reported being bullied at school. In addition, higher percentages of Black students (20 percent) and Hispanic students than of Asian students reported being bullied at school. Higher percentages of students in grades 6 through 11 than of students in grade 12 reported being bullied at school during the school year. In 2013, about 14 percent of 12th-graders reported being bullied at school, compared with 28 percent of 6th-graders, 26 percent of 7th-graders, 22 percent of 8th-graders, 23 percent of 9th-graders, 19 percent of 10th-graders, and 20 percent of 11th-graders.

Additional data from the 2013 School Crime Supplement are available in the Student Reports of Bullying and Cyberbullying: Results from the 2013 School Crime Supplement to the National Victimization Survey. Tables in this report contain further information on bullying-related topics such as frequency and types of bullying, cyber-bullying, and fear and avoidance behaviors at school.

Additional information on the definition of bullying, risk factors for bullying, and bullying prevention can be found on stopbullying.gov. The Department of Education, along with other federal agencies, sponsored stopbullying.gov to provide resources on bullying to school administrators, teachers, parents, and children. 

Does the Department of Education collect information on young children’s social and emotional development?

By Jill Carlivati McCarroll and Gail M. Mulligan

Yes, we do! During their early years, children are developing socially and emotionally. This includes the development of social skills, relationships, and regulation of emotions. Children’s socioemotional development can affect school experiences and outcomes, so it makes sense that the Department of Education is interested in this topic.

Researchers are using NCES’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies (ECLS) to examine questions about socioemotional development, for instance, how children’s growth in this area is related to background characteristics such as race/ethnicity and parents’ educational attainment, as well as home and school experiences. The ECLS studies collect information from the children themselves, as well as from their parents, their care providers, and their teachers. Being longitudinal, the ECLS data allow researchers to study how children’s socioemotional skills develop over time. Additionally, these surveys are some of the only nationally representative studies with data on children in these age groups.

The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) followed a group of children born in 2001 until they entered kindergarten. The ECLS-B was designed to describe children’s earliest experiences and relationships, and the first home visit data collection occurred when the children were only 9 months old. Socioemotional development was measured in several ways in this study. During home visits, researchers observed the children’s interactions with a parent during specific tasks, such as while the parent was reading a book aloud to the child, and reported on the children’s attentiveness, interest, affect, and social engagement. The quality of the children’s attachment relationship to their parent was also measured at age 2. When the children were in kindergarten, their teachers provided information about the children’s socioemotional skills. 

Socioemotional development has also been measured in ECLS studies that have followed groups of kindergartners over time: the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99 (ECLS-K) and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010-11 (ECLS-K:2011). Teachers provided information about children’s social skills, problem behaviors, learning behaviors, and their own closeness and conflict with the students. Parents provided their own reports on much of the same information. One analysis of data from the teacher reports shows that children who enter kindergarten on time and those who had a delayed entry show positive “approaches to learning” (for example, eagerness to learn, self-direction, and attentiveness) more often than children who repeat kindergarten.

In later rounds of the ECLS-K and ECLS-K:2011, when the children were older, they were asked to provide information about themselves. In the ongoing ECLS-K:2011, children are reporting on aspects of socioemotional development such as their relationships with peers, social distress, peer victimization, and their satisfaction with different aspects of their lives.

For more information on the measures of socioemotional development included in the ECLS studies, please see our homepage, review our online training modules for the ECLS-B and ECLS-K, or email the ECLS study team.