Relationships Between Family Risks and Children’s Reading and Mathematics Growth from Kindergarten Through Third Grade
Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association 2005 Annual Conference Montreal, Canada April 11-15
Risk factors identified in previous education research include coming from a low-income family or single-parent household, having parents who did not complete high school, and having parents who speak a language other than English in the home (Croninger and Lee 2001; Pallas, Natriello, McDill 1989; Rathbun and West 2004; Zill and West 2001). Previous studies have found associations among these family background characteristics and poor educational outcomes, including low achievement scores, grade repetition, and dropping out of high school. Many children with one risk factor have other family risks present. For instance, children in single parent households are likely to also live in poverty (Pallas, Natriello, and McDill 1989; Rathbun and West 2004). Given that family risks may occur alone or in combination, it is important to examine relationships between particular sets of risks and children’s early school achievement to explore whether children with certain types of risk factors begin school demonstrating fewer reading and mathematics skills than other kindergartners, and whether they fall further behind other children in reading and mathematics over the first four years of school.
Many of the studies that compare approaches to examining the relationship between risk factors and child outcomes have been based on relatively small sample sizes and have included large numbers of contextual risk factors as predictor variables. Furthermore, in many instances the samples were not representative of the U.S. population of children; rather, they tended to focus on minority children or those who had certain risk factors present (e.g., large proportion of families in poverty, overrepresentation of parental psychopathology). With such samples, researchers noted that the composite or cumulative risk index approach tended to provide the greater statistical power for examining the relationships between risk factors and child outcomes than the multiple predictor approach (Burchinal et al. 2000; Gutman, Sameroff, and Cole 2003). However, exploring the unique effects of risk factors allows for the isolation of qualitatively distinct sources of contextual risk (Ackerman et al. 1999).
Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998–99 (ECLSK), this paper extends the findings from prior research. First, it explores whether kindergartners’ reading and mathematics gains over the first 4 years of school are more strongly associated with particular risk factors alone or in combination, as opposed to the cumulative number of family risk factors a child experiences. Second, the analysis makes use of the reading and mathematics data collected at 4 time points (i.e., fall kindergarten, spring kindergarten, spring first grade, and spring third grade) to describe achievement growth over time, rather than using scores from two time points (fall kindergarten and spring third grade) as a measure of academic gain.