Primary school performance predictable from early childhood

 (Image: Pixabay CC0)
(Image: Pixabay CC0)
Tests carried out on children aged 3 to 5 predict many of the differences in later school performance.

Some 84,000 children are entering Grade 1 this week in Quebec, and the same question is on all their parents’ minds: will my child do well in school? There may be a way to get a good idea of the answer to this question long before students receive their first report card, suggests a study conducted by an inter-university research team. In fact, tests used to assess certain cognitive skills, as well as knowledge of language and numbers, can be used to predict school performance in early childhood, reports the team in a study published in Plos One.

"The results of these tests explain about half of the differences observed between children in their academic performance at the start of primary school. In psychology, tools that have such a predictive value for academic success are rare," comments study leader Michel Boivin , professor at Université Laval’s School of Psychology.

To demonstrate this, the researchers studied two cohorts totalling over 2,600 subjects. These children are participants in two longitudinal studies undertaken in the mid-1990s: the Quebec Newborn Twins Study and the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development.

The children in these two cohorts were first met when they were, on average, 41 months old in one case and 63 months old in the other. We used tests recognized in psychology to assess their cognitive abilities before they entered school," explains Professor Boivin. These tests assessed, among other things, their memory, visuo-spatial abilities, as well as their knowledge of language and numbers."

"Our analyses have highlighted the central role of number knowledge and language acquisition in early childhood on academic performance in primary school."

-- Michel Boivin

Long-term follow-up of these children made it possible to correlate, for each child, the results of tests conducted in early childhood with academic performance from the first to the sixth year of primary school. "Our analyses highlighted the central role played by early childhood knowledge of numbers and language skills in primary school performance, especially in the early years," summarizes Michel Boivin.

The results of this study reiterate the importance of cognitive development in early childhood for success at school," emphasizes the researcher. What’s more, they pave the way for early detection of children at risk of experiencing difficulties in primary school. The tests we used are relatively simple," says Professor Boivin. They could therefore serve as a basis for identifying, from early childhood, children at risk of having problems at school. In this way, we can identify children for whom it is important to intervene before they start school."

"We could then identify children with whom it is important to intervene before they start school."

-- Michel Boivin

This study is part of Philippe Carpentier’s PhD work, carried out under the supervision of Michel Boivin. Other signatories of the study published in Plos One are Geneviève Morneau-Vaillancourt, Sophie Aubé, Célia Matte-Gagné, Anne-Sophie Denault, Simon Larose, Amélie Petitclerc, Bei Feng and Ginette Dionne, from Université Laval, Mara Brendgen, from Université du Québec à Montréal, and Isabelle Ouellet-Morin, René Carbonneau, Jean Séguin, Sylvana Côté, Frank Vitaro and Richard E. Tremblay, Université de Montréal.