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

Children's Cognitive Knowledge and Skills

Specific Reading and Mathematics Knowledge and Skills in Third Grade

In addition to overall reading and mathematics achievement scores, the ECLS-K includes proficiency level scores for both subject areas that provide more specific information on the knowledge and skills that children have acquired by the end of third grade.32 This section highlights differences in children?s achievement status in specific knowledge and skills relative to child and family characteristics and early education experiences.

Reading

By the end of third grade, almost all children had mastered identifying ending sounds (100 percent), sight words (99 percent), and words in context (95 percent) (figure 7, table A-9). About three quarters of the children could make literal inferences based on cues stated in text, 46 percent were able to use identifying clues to derive meaning in text, and 29 percent demonstrated the ability to make interpretations beyond text. The next two parts of this section compare third-graders? proficiency in making literal inferences, deriving meaning from text, and making interpretations beyond text, in terms of children?s characteristics and their early school experiences. Subgroup comparisons were not made for ending sounds, sight words, and words in context mastery since almost all children were proficient in these skills in the spring of third grade.

Child and Family Characteristics

Bivariate comparisons. Third-graders? proficiency in specific reading knowledge and skills differed in relation to their sex, race/ethnicity, and number of family risk factors (table A-9). By the end of third grade, girls were more likely to be proficient in making literal inferences and deriving meaning from text than boys.33 Black children were less likely to demonstrate proficiency in making literal inferences, deriving meaning from text, and making interpretations beyond text than White, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Hispanic children (figure 8). Also, Hispanic third-graders were less likely to be proficient in these three areas than White and Asian/Pacific Islander children. For instance, 53 percent of White and 48 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander third-graders could derive meaning based on textual clues and background knowledge, compared to 39 percent of Hispanic and 27 percent of Black third-graders. In addition, children with more family risk factors were less likely to be proficient in these three areas than those with fewer risk factors. As an example, 85 percent of children with no risk factors were able to make inferences based on cues stated in text, compared with 73 percent of children with one risk factor and 57 percent of children with 2 or more risk factors.

Regression analyses. Many of the differences found in the bivariate comparisons persisted after taking into account children?s sex, race/ethnicity, number of family risk factors, and early school experiences, with the exception of some differences between Hispanic, White, and Asian/Pacific Islander children?s attainment of specific reading skills (table A-10). For instance, 5 to 6 percent fewer thirdgrade boys were proficient in literal inference or deriving meaning, compared to girls, after controlling for the other factors. When compared to White third-graders, 12 to 13 percent fewer Black thirdgraders were proficient in literal inference and interpreting beyond text, and 18 percent fewer were able to derive meaning from text. Also, 6 to 7 percent fewer Hispanic third-graders could derive meaning or interpret beyond text compared with White children. On the other hand, no differences were detected between the percentage of Hispanic third-graders who were proficient in making literal inferences and the percentages of White and Asian/ Pacific Islander children demonstrating such skills. Also, no differences were detected between the likelihood of Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander children to derive meaning based on textual cues after controlling for the other factors. Thus, some of the differences between the performance of Hispanic children and those from other racial/ethnic groups may be attributed to other factors, such as family risk factors.

Early School Experiences

Bivariate comparisons. Children?s reading proficiency in specific knowledge and skills also differed in third grade by the types of schools they attended (table A-9). Children enrolled in private schools from kindergarten through third grade were more likely to be able to make literal inferences or derive meaning from text than those who attended only public schools or those who switched school types during the study, and those who had switched school types were more likely to be proficient in these areas than children who attended public schools for all 4 years (figure 9). In addition, 27 percent of public school children were able to make interpretations beyond text, compared with 38 percent of children who always had attended private schools and 35 percent of children who changed school types in the first 4 years of school. No differences were detected in children?s reading proficiency in relation to the type of kindergarten program they had attended.

Regression analyses. After controlling for children?s sex, race/ethnicity, number of family risk factors, and kindergarten program type, children who had attended public schools in kindergarten through third grade were still less likely than children who had always attended private schools to reach the top three proficiency levels (i.e., literal inference, deriving meaning, and interpreting beyond text had 8, 10, and 6 percent fewer students from the public school only group than from the private school only group) (table A-10). Further, children who had always attended public schools were less likely to be proficient at deriving meaning and interpreting beyond the text than those children who had changed school types. However, there were no substantive differences in the percentage of children who demonstrated the ability to make literal inferences between those who had attended private school for all 4 years and those who had only attended private schools for a portion of the time, after accounting for the other factors. Also, children who had always attended public school were not substantively less likely to be proficient at literal inferences than those who had attended both public and private schools.

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Mathematics

By the end of third grade, all children had mastered ordinality and sequence skills and 97 percent were proficient in solving simple addition and subtraction problems (figure 10, table A-11). Seventy- eight percent of the children could solve simple multiplication and division problems, 42 percent demonstrated an understanding of place value in integers to the hundreds place, and 16 percent were able to use knowledge of rate and measurement to solve word problems. The next two parts of this section focus on differences in third-graders? proficiency in multiplication and division, place value, and rate and measurement relative to children?s characteristics and their early school experiences. Subgroup comparisons were not made for ordinality and sequence skills or simple addition and subtraction problemsolving since almost all children were proficient in these skills in the spring of third grade.

Child and Family Characteristics

Bivariate comparisons. Consistent with the patterns found in reading, third-graders? proficiency in specific mathematics knowledge and skills varied by their sex, race/ethnicity, and number of family risk factors (table A-11). Boys were more likely than girls to demonstrate an understanding of place value concepts and knowledge of rate and measurement to solve word problems. Black third-graders were less likely to demonstrate proficiency in multiplication and division, place value, and rate and measurement than White, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander third-graders, and the percentage of Hispanic children reaching each of these proficiency levels was lower than the percentage of White and Asian/Pacific Islander children reaching these respective levels (figure 11). For instance, in third grade about half of White and Asian/Pacific Islander children were proficient in understanding place value, compared with 35 percent of Hispanic children and 20 percent of Black children in third grade. Also, children from homes with more risk factors were less likely to have reached each of the three proficiency levels than children with fewer risk factors. As an example, about one-fifth of children with no risk factors were proficient at using rate and measurement knowledge to solve word problems, compared with 11 percent of children with one family risk and 5 percent of children with 2 or more risk factors.

Regression analyses. All but one of the differences in specific math proficiency levels persisted after controlling for the other described factors (table A-12). For instance, 7 to 8 percent fewer thirdgrade girls were proficient in place value and rate and measurement, compared to boys. Also, when compared to White third-graders, a smaller percentage of Black third-graders were proficient in multiplication and division, place value, and rate and measurement (20, 23, and 11 percent fewer, respectively). In addition, for each family risk factor, the percent of third-graders proficient in multiplication and division and place value decreased by 8 to 9 percent, and the percent proficient in rate and measurement decreased by 5 percent. However, after taking into account children?s sex, number of family risk factors, and early school experiences, the percentage of Hispanic third-graders proficient in multiplication and division did not differ substantively from the percentage of White children demonstrating such skills and knowledge.

Early School Experiences

Bivariate comparisons. Children?s performance in specific mathematics knowledge and skills also differed by their school type (table A-11). Children who had attended public schools for all 4 years were less likely to be proficient in multiplication and division, place value, and rate and measurement than children who had attended private schools for all or some of the time between kindergarten and third grade (figure 12). For instance, 14 percent of children who had always attended public schools were able to use rate and measurement to solve word problems, compared with 22 percent of children who had attended both public and private schools, and 20 percent who had always attended private schools.

Regression analyses. After controlling for children?s sex, race/ethnicity, number of family risk factors, and kindergarten program type, some of the differences in specific mathematics knowledge and skills attributed to school type did not persist (table A-12). For instance, compared to children who had always attended private schools, 5 percent fewer children who had always attended public schools reached the multiplication/division and place value proficiency levels. However, children who had always attended public schools were not substantively less likely to reach these two levels than children who had attended both public and private schools. On the other hand, 5 percent fewer children who had exclusively attended public school were able to use rate and measurement to solve word problems, compared with those who attended both public and private schools, but children who only attended public schools were not less likely to demonstrate this skill than children who attended private school for all 4 years.

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32 Information on the percent of children reaching each proficiency level at the end of first grade is also provided in this report, although comparisons are only made for thirdgrade data. For a more detailed analysis of children?s reading and mathematics knowledge and skills in kindergarten and first grade, refer to America's Kindergartners (West, Denton, and Germino Hausken 2000), The Kindergarten Year (West, Denton, and Reaney 2001), and Children?s Reading and Mathematics Achievement in Kindergarten and First Grade (Denton and West 2002).

33 When reporting on differences in the percentage of children proficient in specific skills and knowledge, a difference of 5 percentage points is substantively important.
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