Intellectual and Behavioral Readiness Skills on Academic Achievement

Kindergarten readiness is an essential factor in determining achievement for young learners and determining where improvement should occur. This paper is a review of literature related to kindergarten readiness skills and the correlations with academic achievement. In general, the literature seems to indicate that readiness skills, mostly focused on attentive behaviors, social-emotional, and academics, have valid associations with academic achievement throughout the kindergarten year and beyond. The large majority of research focused on the use of KRAs (kindergarten readiness assessments) to predict future academic achievement, the validity of such assessments for determining readiness, and the ability of preschool programs to prepare students for kindergarten. Research also focused on the perspectives of educators, along with parents, on what skills were most vital to readiness and achievement. While most data from the studies indicated academic skills as important to future success in school, it also indicated other skills such as attention behaviors, cognitive control, and self-regulation as essential to academic growth. The need and validity of KRAs has been supported by the research and the need for further studies on how to best use the data have been recommended.

While kindergarten readiness and academic achievement have been widely studied, the importance of using data from the research to guide and provide direction to classroom instruction is essential for promoting success in kindergarten and beyond. Many studies indicate academic readiness skills as a critical component for academic achievement, but the research also reveals the importance of developing social emotional skills and attentive behaviors for academic success. With data and studies indicating the need to develop multiple skills across domains for high academic achievement, best practices for targeting instruction to the needs of the students is essential.

The purpose of my study is to investigate the effect of kindergarteners’ intellectual and behavioral readiness skills on academic achievement. The research question would then be, does intervention targeted at improving focus/attention for students with low or moderate kindergarten readiness levels result in higher academic achievement compared to students with low/moderate readiness levels that receive intervention targeted at intellectual improvement? In studying the research related to kindergarten readiness, some common themes emerged which include the most critical skills for kindergarten readiness and future success, the validity and use of KRAs (kindergarten readiness assessments), the perspectives of educators and parents on kindergarten readiness and essential skills, and the effect of preschool programs on improving kindergarten readiness. While the research on kindergarten readiness is thorough and widely available, there is less research on how to use readiness data to improve instruction and methods of instruction that are most beneficial to increasing performance of students. In order to promote success in kindergarten and all levels of schooling, research looking into the most effective methods to use KRA data to guide instruction is vital.

Kindergarten Readiness Assessments (KRAs), also referred to as Kindergarten Entry Assessments (KEAs) are assessments administered a few weeks into the kindergarten year to determine what skills a student is proficient in and how “ready” they are for school. Many KRAs assess in multiple skills areas such as content knowledge, social-emotional skills, fine motor skills, etc. KRAs are typically administered one-on-one between the teacher and each student. They can include performance tasks, written assignments, and teacher observations. KRAs provide a baseline of skills for teachers to determine what areas need more focus and/or students who may need additional practice or specialized instruction.

Achievement tests are academic assessments used to monitor student progress throughout the academic year. They are generally administered towards the end of the school year, but sometimes are given a few times throughout the year to track growth. These types of tests are available for students from K-12. Achievement tests are typically used to monitor progress and compare learning to students across the nation. While every school is different and requirements vary, achievement tests are sometimes used to determine if a student is ready for the next grade level or if they may need to be retained.

Cognitive control refers to a students’ development of working memory, ability to sit still, time management, ability to keep area clean, following directions in sequential order, etc. (Fitzpatrick, 2017). When students have attentive behaviors, they are able to pay attention and focus on the task at hand along with following oral directions, listening to others when they are speaking, resisting small distractions, etc. (Argue et al., 2019).

Research conducted on determining the validity of KRAs (KEAs) was most commonly found when reviewing the literature on kindergarten readiness. The majority of states and schools require some form of a readiness assessment to be completed to determine each students’ readiness level and any areas of concern. While KRAs are widely used and mandatory in most schools, the usefulness of different types of KRA was researched to establish the worth and value in their use of determining readiness. The studies that tested the validity of KRAs, did not use the exact same KRA because that varies by state and sometimes by school. Even though different KRAs were studied and examined, they were all determined to have validity in deciding readiness.

When assessing the validity of KRAs, researchers look at the ability of the KRA to show alignment with other entry assessments and have positive correlations with academic predictions. One study conducted by Miller-Bains et al. (2017) was centered around determining if the TS Gold was aligned with other validated direct assessments and if it was able to differentiate students’ readiness skills within a classroom. The research found that the results of the study indicated consistency with previous research in regard to the consistent internal structure of the TS Gold and also found that the TS GOLD had strong associations with independent direct assessments. This study was able to validate a specific KRA (the TS Gold) as a beneficial tool for determining readiness as it aligned with other validated direct assessments, but the TS Gold did not show as much variation amongst teacher ratings of individual students across learning domains as the independent direct assessment showed (Miller-Bains et al., 2017). Another study looked to examine the relationship and associations between a single-item readiness screener, K-ABR (Kindergarten Academic and Behavior Readiness Screener), and its validity in determining readiness compared to a longer-scale screener, SER (Social Emotional Readiness) from the TOCA-R (Teacher Observation of Classroom Adaptation–Revised). The results of the study found that the single item readiness screener (K-ABR) over predicted the SER in K-PALS scores. This information provides more data on the idea that single item readiness screeners can predict notable outcomes for academic achievement that are just as significant, and possibly better, than longer scales (Stormont et al., 2017). Comparing KRAs to other direct assessments indicated that the KRAs had strong associations and validity was established in their use for determining readiness (Miller-Bains et al., 2017 and Stormont et al., 2017).

Another area researchers tend to examine when determining the validity of a KRA was their ability to successfully predict future academic achievement, whether high achievement or low achievement. Stormont et al. (2019) conducted a study focusing on the K-ABRS (Kindergarten Academic and Behavior Readiness Screener) ability to predict future outcomes in school. It examined the readiness ratings of kindergarten students at the start of the K5 year with 18-month outcomes of those students at the end of the first grade year. The study results indicated that low ratings on the kindergarten readiness screener did result in negative outcomes for the 18-month follow-up assessment (standardized test) (Stormont et al., 2019). Argue et al. (2016) also conducted a similar study using KRA scores to predict future academic achievement, but at the fourth grade level as opposed to the first grade level. This study examined the relationship between the QELI (Qualls Early Learning Inventory) and fourth grade outcomes on the ACTAAP (Arkansas Comprehensive Testing, Assessment, and Accountability Program). The results of the study revealed that different subtests of the QELI were more important for predicting proficiency than others. This indicates that there is validity in using KRAs to predict future academic achievement, but that certain skill areas and combinations of tests within the KRA are better at determining future success than others (Argue et al., 2016). Therefore, KRA data should be carefully examined when deciding what areas and scores have proficiency to successfully predict academic achievement.

Determining the skills of kindergarten readiness that are essential to future success of students was another reoccurring theme in the research. Research revealed that self-regulation, classroom engagement, social-emotional, and academic skills were all vital to kindergarteners succeeding later on in their schooling (Argue et al., 2016; Fitzpatrick, 2017; Jarrett & Coba-Rodriguez, 2019; Ohle & Harvey, 2019). Research shows that kindergarten readiness skills can be an early indicator of academic achievement in upper elementary grades. For example, Fitzpatrick found that students with moderate and low levels of readiness skills had poorer academic achievement in fourth grade compared to their peers with higher kindergarten readiness skills (2017). While research indicates that readiness skills are an essential key to predicting future academic success, research also shows that cognitive control or classroom engagement can also have an effect on academic achievement.

Classroom engagement skills can greatly impact academic skills. If a student is not engaged in the learning or has difficulty with attention/focus, their academic achievement may remain low/moderate. Since cognitive control directly affects focus, attention, and working memory, it is suggested that intervention for increasing cognitive control may be more beneficial to academic success than intervention targeted at improving intelligence only. (Fitzpatrick, 2017). The research by Argue et al. (2016) on readiness skills and the effects on academic achievement found that while readiness skills can be an early indicator of academic performance, the most significant finding was that the developing of attentive behavior skills was most essential at the early childhood level for future academic success. Therefore, kindergarten readiness skills in combination with higher levels of cognitive control result in higher academic achievement (Fitzpatrick, 2017; Argue et al., 2016).

Just as using KRAs to establish what areas of skills are most crucial to succeeding in school, understanding teachers’ and parents’ perspectives on essential skills for achievement is important and revealing of what skills promote higher learning. A study by Jarrett & Coba-Rodriguez (2019), conducted in the Chicago area, found that educators and mothers generally believed socio-emotional skills and academic skills to be of utmost importance in determining kindergarten readiness. Another study of perceptions of educators on kindergarten readiness found that age, although not a “skill”, and academic skills were most commonly noted by educators to be the most essential skills for determining readiness (Ohle & Harvey, 2019). The purpose of investigating kindergarten readiness skills and the effects on learning is to target students who may need intervention early in order to implement instruction that can help increase the skills necessary to perform well academically. Knowing that the most commonly found skills that are essential to high achievement are attentive behaviors, social-emotional skills, and academic knowledge, one can better prepare kindergarten students (regardless of level of readiness) for future academic success which is the general purpose and reasoning behind conducting studies of this nature.

Perceptions of kindergarten readiness and the impact on success was another theme found when examining the research on the topic of kindergarten readiness and academic skills. Just as with KRA data, the skills commonly found to be held at higher value by educators and teachers were in the areas of academics and social-emotional skills. Research conducted by Jarrett and Coba-Rodriguez (2019) studies the perspectives of school readiness from preschool teachers, kindergarten teachers, and mothers. The results indicated that socio-emotional and academic skills were the most cited readiness abilities defined by mothers, preschool teachers, and kindergarten teachers alike. The views of the teachers (preschool and kindergarten) were consistent and aligned with the views of the mothers (Jarrett & Coba-Rodriguez, 2019) indicating that these skills are valuable and beneficial to kindergarten readiness.

Another study by Ohle & Harvey (2019) that examined perspectives of educators in Alaska had similar findings showing a prevalent readiness perception amongst educators to include children being age 5 and having academic and social emotional skills. A major finding was age being an essential readiness factor amongst teachers when evaluating kindergarten readiness and a common belief that having academic/social emotional skills beforehand is beneficial, but students may “come as they are” with any level of skills (Ohle & Harvey, 2019). While age in not a skill and is not something that can be obtained and developed, it certainly can affect the development of skills and the ability to perform certain tasks. Therefore, while not a skill that can be refined and built upon, age can surely play a large role in the development of skills necessary to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

Puccioni et al. (2019) conducted research on the effects of parental beliefs about readiness on student achievement. The study revealed a positive association between parents’ school readiness beliefs and academic achievement at the beginning of the kindergarten year. Not only was a positive association found between parent beliefs and academics, but also between parents’ home-involvement and kindergarten academic achievement indicating that parent involvement may result in higher achievement for students. The researchers indicate that parents who place a higher value on readiness skills (academic and behavioral) tend to have children with higher academic achievement along with social and self-regulatory skills (Puccioni, et al., 2019). While there is some variance among educators and parents regarding the top skill essential to success in kindergarten and beyond, most research commonly found that academic knowledge, social-emotional skills, and self-regulation were most beneficial to being “kindergarten ready” and seeing high achievement in school.

With a need to identify what areas are key to promoting kindergarten readiness and future academic success, another theme emerging from the literature was the ability of preschool programs to increase kindergarten readiness and to assist in determining the skills needed to succeed. Harman et al. (2017) researched the connections between behavior and kindergarten achievement and readiness skills. The study found that students with fewer teacher-reported behavior problems in pre-K had higher achievement (readiness and grades) in their kindergarten year. The researchers propose that behavior intervention can positively impact kindergarten readiness and achievement (Hartman et al., 2017). It was revealed through a study by Hustedt et al. (2015) that students who attended the ABC pre-K program had gains in the three key areas of vocabulary, mathematics, and print awareness thus providing evidence that attending a pre-K program can prove beneficial to kindergarten readiness and academic achievement. Interestingly, another study, focusing on pre-K programs and their ability to prepare children for kindergarten, compared a nature-based pre-K program to a traditional pre-K program to determine if there was a difference, if any, in preparation (Cordiano et al., 2019).

The results indicated that, in general, both the nature-based program and the traditional program achieved the expected developmental gains in the areas of behavior, academic skills, social-emotional functioning, and pretend play. Teacher ratings of students in the nature-based program demonstrated higher levels of play disruption and play disconnection, but these results, while statistically significant, did not have clinically meaningful differences thus showing that both programs efficiently prepared students for kindergarten (Cordiano et al., 2019). While there are many varying opinions and stances on the effectiveness of pre-K programs and how they should be structured, it can be seen through this review of literature that pre-K can play a major role in kindergarten readiness and development of essential skills and, therefore, should be considered when deciding the most effective strategies to promote readiness skills.