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

Children's Cognitive Knowledge and Skills

Overall Reading, Mathematics, and Science Knowledge and Skills in Third Grade

In addition to describing the achievement that children made in reading and mathematics over their first 4 years of school, children?s third-grade achievement status in these subject areas was explored in relation to characteristics of the children, their families, and their early school experiences. This section also includes information about children?s achievement in science, since the ECLS-K included a science assessment in the third-grade year.30

Child and Family Characteristics

Bivariate comparisons. At the end of third grade, children?s reading, mathematics, and science knowledge and skills differed in relation to children?s race/ethnicity and number of family risk factors (tables A-4, A-5, A-7 and figure 5).31 White and Asian/Pacific Islander children had higher reading, mathematics, and science scale scores than Black and Hispanic children, and Hispanic children obtained higher scale scores in all three subject areas than Black children (figure 5). Also, the fewer the risk factors present, the better children performed on the reading, mathematics, and science assessments in third grade. No substantive differences were found between girls? and boys? overall reading, mathematics, or science knowledge and skills.

Regression analyses. In order to describe children?s overall reading, mathematics, and science achievement at the end of third grade in relation to each of the described child, family, and early school experience variables, regression analyses were conducted that examine each relationship while controlling for the other characteristics (table A-8). Results of the three regression analyses (i.e., reading, mathematics, and science) indicated that Black third-graders had lower achievement scores in all three subject areas compared with White, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander third-graders, after accounting for the other selected characteristics (i.e., sex, number of family risk factors, kindergarten program type, types of schools attended). Black thirdgraders? reading scores were about 9 points lower than White third-graders, 6 points lower than Hispanic third-graders, and about 10 points less than Asian Pacific Islander third-graders. In mathematics, Black third-graders scored about 12 points lower than White third-graders, 9 points lower than Hispanic third-graders, and about 14 points lower than Asian/Pacific Islander children. Black children?s third-grade science scores were about 8 points lower than White children, 5 points lower than Hispanic children, and 7 points lower than Asian/Pacific Islander children. Consistent with the bivariate findings, children with one or more family risk factors also demonstrated lower achievement scores in all three subject areas than children with no family risk factors. For each family risk factor, children?s reading scores decreased by about 6 points, their mathematics scores decreased by about 5 points, and their science scores decreased by about 3 points. On the other hand, although the bivariate results indicated that Hispanic children had lower achievement scores at the end of third grade in all three subjects than White and Asian/Pacific Islander thirdgraders, the regression findings indicated that Hispanic children?s achievement was substantively lower than White children?s achievement only in science (a 3 point difference), after controlling for the other factors.

Early School Experiences

Bivariate comparisons. Children?s achievement scores in reading, mathematics, and science in third grade were also related to some of their early school experiences (tables A-4, A-5, and A-7). Third-graders? reading, mathematics, and science achievement scores were related to the types of schools they attended (figure 6). Children who attended public schools for the first 4 years of school had lower scale scores in reading and science than children who had always attended private schools or those who had attended both public and private schools. In addition, those who attended public schools the whole time had lower mathematics scale scores than those who attended private school the whole time. As noted previously, differences related to school type should be interpreted with caution since children also demonstrated differences in achievement by their school type at the start of kindergarten, when schools have had little opportunity to have an effect on children?s performance (West, Denton, and Reaney 2001).

Regression analyses. After accounting for the other described characteristics (i.e., sex, race/ ethnicity, number of family risk factors, and kindergarten program type), there were no substantive differences in children?s achievement in mathematics or science related to the types of schools they attended from kindergarten through third grade (table A-8). In reading, children who had always attended private schools had achievement scores that were about 5 points higher than those who had always attended public school. Thus, although the bivariate results showed that children who attended private schools for part or all of their first 4 years of school generally had higher reading, mathematics, and science achievement than children who had attended only public schools, many of these school type differences could be attributed to other factors, such as race/ethnicity or family risk factors.

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30 In the spring of third grade, reading scale scores ranged from 42 to 149 points, with a standard deviation (SD) of 19.9 points, mathematics scale scores ranged from 33 to 120 points, SD of 17.8 points, and the science scale scores ranged from 11 to 59 points, SD of 9.6 points. Thus, differences in group mean scale scores were substantive if they were statistically significant and greater than or equal to an effect size of 5.0 points in reading, 4.5 points in mathematics, and 2.4 points in science.

31 Tables A-4 and A-5 also provide information on the mean achievement scores for children at the start and end of kindergarten and the end of first grade, although comparisons are only made for third-grade data.
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