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From Kindergarten to Third Grade: Children's Beginning School Experiences

Children's Cognitive Knowledge and Skills

What knowledge and skills do children demonstrate in the spring of third grade? How have these changed since they first started school? Do children?s knowledge and skills and the gains they have made over time differ by certain child, family, and school characteristics?

Although the ECLS-K is the first National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) study to conduct direct assessments of children?s cognitive achievement in their first years of school, other NCES surveys have assessed children?s reading, mathematics, and science skills as early as fourth grade. The 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics assessments found that fourth-graders? achievement scores in both subject areas differed in terms of children?s sex, race/ethnicity, eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch, and the type of school they attended (NCES 2003b; NCES 2003c). In reading, fourth-grade girls had higher average scores than fourth-grade boys (NCES 2003c). White and Asian/Pacific Islander fourth-graders outperformed their Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/ Alaska Native counterparts in reading and mathematics. Also, low-income fourth-graders (those who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch programs) had lower average scores in both subject areas than those who were not eligible for such assistance. In addition, children attending private schools outperformed their peers in public schools in both subject areas in fourth grade (NCES 2003b; NCES 2003c).

The first part of this section examines how children?s achievement in reading and mathematics changes from the start of kindergarten to the end of their fourth year of schooling, when most children are enrolled in third grade. Second, children?s overall achievement status in reading, mathematics, and science at the end of third grade is described. Third, information is provided on the specific sets of reading and mathematics knowledge and skills that children demonstrate at the end of third grade. Differences in children?s achievement are described overall and in relation to characteristics of the children, their families, and their early school experiences.

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