By Amy Rathbun, AIR and Joel McFarland
Previous NCES research has shown that students with family risk factors tend to have lower average scores than their peers on academic assessments. Risk factors can include coming from a low-income family or single-parent household, not having a parent who completed high school, and living in a household where the primary language is not English. How common is it for children entering U.S. kindergartens to have certain types of family risk factors? And, how do children with risk factors at kindergarten entry perform on academic assessments compared to their peers? A new spotlight from The Condition of Education 2017 helps to answer these questions.
The spotlight focuses on children experiencing two types of risk factors - living in poverty (i.e., in households with income below the federal poverty threshold) and not having a parent who completed high school, as well as the combination and lack of the two risk factors. Data come from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011). During the 2010–11 school year, 6 percent of first-time kindergartners had both risk factors , 18 percent had the single risk factor of living in poverty, and 2 percent had the single risk factor of not having a parent who completed high school. About 75 percent had neither of these two risk factors present during their kindergarten year.
Percentage distribution of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners, by risk factors related to parent education and poverty: School year 2010–11
NOTE: Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), Kindergarten–Third Grade Restricted-Use Data File. See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 220.39.
Are there differences in the prevalence of risk factors by student and family characteristics?
There were differences in the prevalence of family risk factors in relation to children’s race/ethnicity, primary home language, and family composition. For instance, it was more common for Hispanic students (15 percent) than for Black and Asian students (8 percent each) to have both risk factors, and these percentages were all higher than the percentage for White students (1 percent). Also, 23 percent of first-time kindergartners whose primary home language was not English had both the risk factor of living in poverty and the risk factor of not having a parent who completed high school, compared with 2 percent of kindergartners whose primary home language was English.
Does children’s performance in reading, math, and science in kindergarten through third grade differ based on risk factors?
Kindergarten students living in poverty and those with no parent that completed high school tended to score lower in reading, mathematics, and science over each of their first four years of school compared to their peers who had neither risk factor at kindergarten entry. For example, in the spring of third-grade, reading scores (on a scale of 0 to 141) were higher, on average, for students who had neither risk factor (114 points) than for those with the single risk factor of living in poverty (106 points), those with the single risk factor of not having a parent who completed high school (105 points), and those with both risk factors (102 points).
Average reading scale scores of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners, by time of assessment and risk factors related to parent education and poverty: Fall 2010 through spring 2014
NOTE: Estimates weighted by W7C17P_7T170. Scores on the reading assessments reflect performance on questions measuring basic skills (print familiarity, letter recognition, beginning and ending sounds, rhyming words, and word recognition); vocabulary knowledge; and reading comprehension, including identifying information specifically stated in text (e.g., definitions, facts, and supporting details), making complex inferences from texts, and considering the text objectively and judging its appropriateness and quality. Possible scores for the reading assessment range from 0 to 141.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), Kindergarten–Third Grade Restricted-Use Data File. See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 220.40.
For more information on family risk factors and children’s achievement in reading, mathematics, and science from the fall of kindergarten through the spring of third grade, see the spotlight on this topic in The Condition of Education 2017.
 Given that the spring third-grade reading scores have a mean of 110.2 points and a standard deviation (SD) of 12.3 points, this would mean the average score for children who had no risk factors was about 1.0 SD higher than the score for children with no risk factors.
 Rathbun, A., and West, J. (2004). From Kindergarten Through Third Grade: Children's Beginning School Experiences (NCES 2004–007). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved March 2, 2017, from https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2004007.