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2006Research Conference | June 15–16

This conference highlighted the work of invited speakers, independent researchers who have received grant funds from the Institute of Education Sciences, and trainees supported through predoctoral training grants and postdoctoral fellowships. The presentations are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Education or the Institute of Education Sciences.
Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill
400 New Jersey Avenue, N.W.
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Identifying and Overcoming the Learning Gaps Created by Early Childhood Poverty

James Benson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Abstract: This presentation is based on a study entitled "Seasonal Learning Theory and the ECLS: Findings Concerning the Relative Contributions of Social Background, Neighborhood Contexts, and School Compositions" (Benson and Borman, unpublished manuscript).

In this study, we employed a set of piecewise, multilevel, linear growth models that distinguished between achievement levels at school entry, and growth rates during the kindergarten, summer, and first grade periods. Data came from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Kindergarten cohort. The first level of our analysis captured the differences in learning rates across seasons (periods). The second level captured the effects of different levels of family socioeconomic status upon learning rates across the three time periods, while controlling for differences in family size and structure. The third level captured the contribution of neighborhood and school social contexts to reading achievement.

Regarding the effects of socioeconomic background on reading achievement, we found that socioeconomic status was the single most important predictor of reading achievement at school entry. Students from poor families (lowest quintile) entered school one standard deviation behind their wealthy counterparts (highest quintile). Neighborhood social context explained only 10 percent of this difference, with the rest being explained by family SES. Unfortunately for students from poor families, this achievement gap increased over the period from school entry to the end of first grade. Whereas other seasonal researchers have attributed this widening of the gap to summer learning loss, we found that the majority of the gap emerged during the school year, with only 25 percent of it attributable to summer learning loss. Schools, according to our results, did not vary significantly in their effects upon the SES-induced achievement gap. Schools that improved reading achievement growth tended to improve it for all students.