NCES Blog

National Center for Education Statistics

The experiences of our nation’s young children from kindergarten through fourth grade

By Jill Carlivati McCarroll and Gail M. Mulligan

In 2014–15, boys had higher fourth-grade math scores than girls, but no significant differences were found in boys’ versus girls’ fourth-grade reading knowledge and skills. These findings come from the most recent data release for the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011). A recently released report provides a first look at the status of students who were in kindergarten for the first time during the 2010-11 school year and were in fourth grade in 2014-15. The longitudinal nature of this study allows for a comparison of trends over time. For example, differences in math scores between boys and girls were also observed in third grade but not in earlier grades. No significant differences in reading results for boys and girls have been detected in any grade between kindergarten and fourth. More data on assessment scores, as well as the demographic and family characteristics of the cohort of students who were first-time kindergartners in 2010-11, are available in the reports.

The series of Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies are consistently some of the most popular NCES studies due in large part to the fact that they provide comprehensive and reliable data on important topics such as child development, school readiness, and early school experiences. The ECLS-K:2011 was designed to provide data that can be used to describe and to better understand children’s development and experiences in the elementary grades, and how children’s early experiences relate to their later development, learning, and experiences in school. The study is longitudinal, meaning that it followed the same group of children over time; in the case of the ECLS-K:2011, children were followed from their kindergarten year (the 2010-11 school year) until the spring of 2016, when most of the children were in the fifth grade.

All planned waves of data through fifth grade have been collected and staff at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) are hard at work releasing reports of the findings as well as the data from all rounds of the study. Researchers, educators, policy makers, and other interested members of the public now have access to much of the important data from the ECLS-K:2011, with additional reports and data releases on their way.

The diverse sample of children who participated in the ECLS-K:2011 is nationally representative of students who were in kindergarten in U.S. schools in the 2010-11 school year. Information on children’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development was collected every year using direct child assessments and surveys for the adults central to the children’s education. Adults surveyed for the study included the children’s parents/guardians, their teachers, their school administrators, and their kindergarten before- and after-school care providers. Topics covered by the surveys included the children’s home environment, home educational activities, school environment, classroom environment, classroom curriculum, teacher qualifications, and before- and after-school care. 

Public-use data from the kindergarten through fourth-grade rounds of the ECLS-K:2011 are now available online. A restricted-use dataset with data from the kindergarten through fourth-grade rounds is also available to qualified researchers with an IES Restricted-use Data License. For information on licensing, please see https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/licenses.asp. The schedule of future data releases is available on the ECLS website.

For more information on the ECLS-K:2011 as well as the other ECLS studies, please see our homepage or email the ECLS study team at ECLS@ed.gov.  

Reading for fun: Using NAEP data to explore student attitudes

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

The National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) is well-known as one of the key resources for information about the academic progress and performance of U.S. students. But did you know that NAEP also collects other important data on students’ behaviors and attitudes? For example, NAEP Long-Term Trend reading assessments have asked students how often they read for fun. Using these data, we can see how the frequency of reading for fun differs by student age and over time. These data can also be examined in conjunction with students’ reading assessment scores on NAEP.

A higher percentage of younger students reported that they read for fun almost every day than older students. In 2012, about 53 percent of 9-year-olds reported that they read for fun almost every day, compared to 27 percent of 13-year-olds and 19 percent of 17-year-olds. Conversely, about 27 percent of 17-year-olds said they never or hardly ever read for fun compared to 22 percent of 13-year-olds and 11 percent of 9-year-olds. For 17-year-olds, the percentage who reported that they read for fun almost every day decreased over time, from 31 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2012.


Percentage of students reading for fun almost every day, by age: 1984 and 2012

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Long-Term Trend Reading Assessments. See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 221.30.


There were also differences in reading assessment scores by frequency of reading for fun. In 2012, students who were 17-years-old and read for fun almost every day had higher scores (302 points) than those that never or hardly ever read for fun (272 points). The same was true for 13-year-olds (276 vs. 249 points, respectively) and 9-year-olds (226 vs. 208 points, respectively). Note, however, that comparisons like these between reading assessment scores and frequency of reading for fun cannot be used to establish a cause-and-effect relationship. 

Other questions about students’ reading behaviors and attitudes are included on the main NAEP assessments. For example, in addition to a question about the frequency of reading for fun, the 2015 questionnaire included the following items:

  • About how many books are there in your home?
  • How often do you talk with your friends or family about something you have read?
  • Reading is one of my favorite activities (with response options: this is not like me, this is a little like me, and this is a lot like me)

Questions like these can be compared with students’ assessment scores to examine how attitudes, behaviors, and achievement may be related.