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

Children's Cognitive Knowledge and Skills

Overall Gains in Reading and Mathematics Knowledge and Skills From Kindergarten to Third Grade

The design of the ECLS-K reading and mathematics assessments permits the examination of longterm gains that children make over their first 4 years of formal schooling, from the start of kindergarten to the end of third grade (figures 1 and 2). The science assessment was not administered until the third-grade year; thus, it is not possible to calculate gain scores for children?s science achievement or to describe the acquisition of these skills across time.

Children?s gains in reading and mathematics were calculated by subtracting children?s fall kindergarten overall achievement scale score in each subject area from their corresponding spring third-grade overall achievement scale score. From the start of kindergarten to the end of third grade, on average, children?s reading scale scores increased an average of 81 points, and their mathematics scale scores increased about 63 points (tables A-4 and A-5). In the fall of kindergarten, the standard deviations for the reading and mathematics overall achievement scale scores were 9.63 and 8.67 points, respectively.26 Thus, children?s spring third-grade reading scale scores were about 8.4 standard deviations higher than their fall kindergarten scores, and their spring third-grade mathematics scale scores were about 7.3 standard deviations higher than their fall kindergarten scores.

It is important to note that the data points represented in the figures and tables in this report cover different time spans (i.e., the kindergarten school year, the full calendar year between spring of kindergarten and spring of first grade, and 2 full calendar years between spring of first grade and spring of third grade). Thus, increases in achievement over time must be interpreted relative to the amount of time between assessments. For instance, over the 12-month period from spring of kindergarten to spring of first grade, children averaged a gain of 30 points in reading (a gain of 3.1 standard deviations), compared with an average annual gain of 19.5 points over the 24-month period from spring of first grade to spring of third grade (average gain of 2.0 standard deviations each year). Similarly, for mathematics, a gain of 23 points from spring of kindergarten to spring of first grade was 8 points greater than the average annual gain from spring of first grade to spring of third grade (for a difference of 0.9 standard deviations).

Bivariate comparisons. The gains that children made in reading and mathematics from the start of kindergarten to the end of the third-grade year differed for some groups of children (tables A-4 and A-5).27 For instance, when comparing the overall, unadjusted mean scores for children from different racial/ethnic groups, Black children made smaller gains in reading and mathematics than White, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander children over the first 4 years of school. In addition, White children made greater gains in both subjects than other, non- Hispanic children over the first 4 years of school.28 Children with fewer risk factors made greater progress in both subject areas than children with more family risk factors (figures 3 and 4). Children?s reading and mathematics gains over the first 4 years of school did not differ substantively, however, by their sex or the type of school or kindergarten program they attended.

Regression analyses. In order to describe children?s gains in reading and mathematics in relation to each of the described child, family, and early school experience variables, regression analyses were conducted to examine each relationship while controlling for the other variables. The dependent variable in the first two regression analyses (i.e., reading and mathematics gain scores) were calculated by subtracting children?s fall kindergarten scale score in each subject area from their corresponding spring third-grade scale score. The results of these analyses are thus presented in terms of the amount of learning children demonstrate during the first 4 years of school, as opposed to children?s status at the end of the third grade adjusted by their fall status, as would be the case with an alternative approach (i.e., a covariance model).29

The regression analyses of children?s gains in reading and mathematics from the start of kindergarten to the end of third grade (table A-6) showed the same patterns of differences between groups of children as were detected in the bivariate analyses. Black children demonstrated gains that were about 6 to 7 points lower in reading and 8 to 9 points lower in mathematics than White, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander children, after accounting for the other selected characteristics (i.e., sex, number of family risk factors, kindergarten program type, and types of schools attended). Also, the number of family risk factors was negatively related to children?s reading gains (effect size = 0.22 standard deviations (SD)) and mathematics achievement gains (effect size = .0.18 SD). For each risk factor, children?s gains in reading decreased by about 4 points and their mathematics gains decreased by about 2 points. Thus, although race/ethnicity was related to the number of family risk factors (Zill and West 2001), each of the two characteristics was also independently related to children?s gains in reading and mathematics over the first 4 years of school.

At the start of kindergarten, Black children and those with more family risk factors had lower mean achievement scores in reading and mathematics than White, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander children and children with fewer risk factors (West, Denton, and Reaney 2001). The findings in this section indicate that the achievement gap between Black children and other racial/ethnic groups, and between children with no risk factors and those with multiple risk factors, grew wider from the start of kindergarten to the end of third grade.

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26 In the fall of kindergarten, children?s reading scale scores ranged from 12 to 114 and their mathematics scale scores ranged from 6 to 64.

27 The fall kindergarten to spring third-grade reading scale gains ranged from 16 to 125 points, with a mean of 81 points and a standard deviation (SD) of 16.8 points, and the mathematics scale gains ranged from 17 to 104 points, with a mean of 63 points and an SD of 13.7 points. Thus, differences in group mean gains were substantive if they were statistically significant and greater than or equal to an effect size of 4.2 points in reading and 3.4 points in mathematics.

28 Although many differences between the ?other, non-Hispanic? children and the other subgroups of children are substantively significant, they are not noted in the later text of this report since the ?other, non-Hispanic? group is composed of children from varying racial/ethnic backgrounds, and thus, the findings are more difficult to interpret.

29 More information on the use of gain scores is provided in Appendix B: Methodology and Technical Notes.
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