The Contributions of Hard Skills and Socio-emotional Behavior to School Readiness (WP-05-01)


IPR-WP-05-01

Greg J. Duncan, Amy Claessens, and Mimi Engel

Children enter kindergarten with disparate abilities in reading and mathematics, capabilities for sitting still and making friends, mental health, and inclinations for aggressive behavior. The relative power of these characteristics to predict later school achievement is the subject of this paper. Data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort are used to relate school-entry test scores on math, reading, and general knowledge as well as both teacher and parent reports of self-control, sociability, mental health, and aggressive behavior to reading and mathematics achievement scores at the end of first grade. We also model the power of increments in these skills and behaviors across kindergarten to predict test scores at the end of first grade. We find much more predictive power for the “hard” skills than for the collection of “soft” skills both for the overall sample and for subgroups defined by race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and gender. By far the most powerful avenue for boosting first-grade test scores appears to be improving the basic skills of low-achieving children upon entry into kindergarten.

Greg J. Duncan, Edwina S. Tarry Professor of Education and Social Policy; Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University
Amy Claessens, Graduate Student, Human Development and Social Policy, Graduate Research Assistant; Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University
Mimi Engel, Graduate Student, Human Development and Social Policy; Graduate Research Assistant, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

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