Executive function deficits in kindergarten predict repeated academic difficulties across elementary school

Paul L. Morgan, George Farkas, Yangyang Wang, Marianne M. Hillemeier, Yoonkyung Oh, Steve Maczuga

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76 Scopus citations


We investigated whether and to what extent deficits in executive functions (EF) increase kindergarten children's risk for repeated academic difficulties across elementary school. We did so by using growth mixture modeling to analyze the first- through third-grade achievement growth trajectories in mathematics, reading, and science of a large (N = 11,010) sample of children participating in the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort of 2011 (ECLS-K: 2011). The modeling yielded four growth trajectory classes in mathematics, reading, and science. We observed an at-risk trajectory class in each academic domain using a standardized scale. Children in the at-risk class initially averaged very low levels of achievement (i.e., about two standard deviations below the mean) in first grade. Their trajectories remained very low or declined further by third grade. Trajectories for other classes were also generally flat but started and remained at higher levels of standardized achievement. Deficits in EF, particularly in working memory, increased kindergarten children's risk of experiencing repeated mathematics, reading, and science difficulties across elementary school. These predictive relations replicated across three academic domains following statistical control for domain-specific and -general autoregressors as well as socio-demographic characteristics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-32
Number of pages13
JournalEarly Childhood Research Quarterly
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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