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Kindergerten Readiness DomainKindergerten Readiness Domain

Disparities in Self-Regulation and Attention Skills

Last Updated: August 2023 | Suggested Citation

Self-Regulation and Attention Skills

At kindergarten entry, children differ not only in their cognitive knowledge and skills but also in their approaches to learning behaviors. In elementary school, positive approaches to learning include behaviors such as paying attention in class, completing tasks independently, organizing materials, and following classroom rules. Differences in children’s approaches to learning behaviors have been observed by teachers in the beginning of kindergarten.16 Research suggests that children who demonstrate positive approaches to learning behaviors have stronger academic skills, on average, in kindergarten and first grade.17, 18

In the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), teachers of kindergarten students reported on how students rate in seven approaches to learning 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. Teachers assigned a rating of 1 (never), 2 (sometimes), 3 (often), or 4 (very often) for each of the seven items during the fall kindergarten round of the ECLS-K:2011. Group differences for first-time kindergartners in this indicator are examined by the average Approaches to Learning score, which was calculated as the average of the ratings on these seven items.

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In the fall 2010 kindergarten data collection, the average Approaches to Learning rating for first-time kindergartners was 3.0. Teachers gave higher ratings, on average, to female than to male kindergartners on the Approaches to Learning scale (3.1 vs. 2.8).

Average Approaches to Learning ratings were higher for Asian (3.1) and White kindergartners (3.0) than for Black (2.8) and Hispanic kindergartners (2.9). Hispanic kindergartners, American Indian/Alaska Native kindergartners (3.0), and kindergartners of Two or more races (3.0) also had higher ratings than Black kindergartners.

Figure 4. Average Approaches to Learning scores of first-time kindergartners, by sex, age at kindergarten entry, and race/ethnicity: Fall 2010

Figure 4. Average Approaches to Learning scores of first-time kindergartners, by sex, age at kindergarten entry, and race/ethnicity: Fall 2010

NOTE: The Approaches to Learning scale is based on teachers’ reports on how students rate in seven areas: attentiveness, task persistence, eagerness to learn, learning independence, flexibility, organization, and ability to follow classroom rules. Possible scores on the scale range from 1 to 4, with higher scores indicating that a child exhibits positive learning behaviors more often. Following data collection, an average of the seven ratings was calculated to represent each child’s fall kindergarten Approaches to Learning rating. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded estimates. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), Kindergarten–First Grade Restricted-Use Data File. See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 220.45.

In the fall of kindergarten, first-time kindergartners whose parents’ highest level of education was a bachelor’s degree or any graduate education received higher Approaches to Learning ratings (both at 3.1), on average, than kindergartners whose parents had some college or vocational training (2.9), students whose parents completed high school (2.8), and students whose parents had completed less than high school (2.8).

With respect to household poverty status, the average Approaches to Learning rating was highest for kindergartners in households with incomes at or above 200 percent of the federal poverty level (3.1) and lowest for those in households with incomes below the federal poverty level (2.8). Kindergartners from two-parent households were rated higher, on average, (3.0) than their peers from single-parent (mother- or father-only) households (2.8) or other household types (2.7).

Figure 5. Average Approaches to Learning scores of first-time kindergartners, by parents’ highest level of education, household type, and poverty status: Fall 2010

Average Approaches to Learning scores of first-time kindergartners, by parents’ highest level of education, household type, and poverty status: Fall 2010

1Parents’ highest level of education is the highest level of education achieved by either of the parents or guardians in a two-parent household, by the only parent in a single-parent household, or by any guardian in a household with no parents.  
2 Two parents may refer to two biological parents, two adoptive parents, or one biological/adoptive parent and one other parent/partner. Single parent refers to one biological or adoptive parent only. Other household type refers to households without parents, in which the guardian or guardians may be related or unrelated to the child.
3 Poverty status is based on preliminary U.S. Census income thresholds for 2010, which identify incomes determined to meet household needs, given family size and composition. For example, a family of three with one child was below the poverty threshold if its income was less than $17,552 in 2010. NOTE: The Approaches to Learning scale is based on teachers’ reports on how students rate in seven areas: attentiveness, task persistence, eagerness to learn, learning independence, flexibility, organization, and ability to follow classroom rules. Possible scores on the scale range from 1 to 4, with higher scores indicating that a child exhibits positive learning behaviors more often. Following data collection, an average of the seven ratings was calculated to represent each child’s fall kindergarten Approaches to Learning rating. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded estimates.  

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), Kindergarten–First Grade Restricted-Use Data File. See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 220.45

Findings in this indicator come from Kindergartners’ Approaches to Learning Behaviors and Academic Outcomes in the Condition of Education. For more information on differences in approaches to learning scores, including differences by age of child and parents’ employment status, see table 220.45 from the Digest of Education Statistics 2014.

16 Zill, N., and West, J. (2001). Entering Kindergarten: A Portrait of American Children When They Begin School: Findings From the Condition of Education 2000 (NCES 2001-035). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

17 Entwisle, D.R., and Alexander, K.L. (1998). Facilitating the Transition to First Grade: The Nature of Transition and Research on Factors Affecting It. The Elementary School Journal, 98(4): 351–364.

18 The Approaches to Learning scale is based on observations by teachers. It is important to note research shows that teachers’ perceptions of the same behavior by students with different demographic and socioeconomic characteristics differ. Additionally, there are cultural considerations in teachers’ perceptions of student behavior. For more information, see Brandmiller, C., Dumont, H., and Becker, M. (2020). Teacher Perceptions of Learning Motivation and Classroom Behavior: The Role of Student Characteristics. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 63. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0361476X20300588.; Zimmermann, C.R. (2018). The Penalty of Being a Young Black Girl: Kindergarten Teachers’ Perceptions of Children’s Problem Behaviors and Student–Teacher Conflict by the Intersection of Race and Gender. The Journal of Negro Education, 87(2), 154–168. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7709/jnegroeducation.87.2.0154; Tyler, K.M., Boykin, A.W., and Walton, T.R. (2006). Cultural considerations in teachers’ perceptions of student classroom behavior and achievement. Teaching and Teacher Education, 22(8), 998–1005. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2006.04.017.

Suggested Citation

National Center for Education Statistics. (2023). Self-Regulation and Attention Skills. Equity in Education Dashboard. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved [date], from [URL].