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September 2011

From the Director's Office

UVA's Grissmer Says Early Fine Motor Skills, General Knowledge Key to Long-Term Educational Outcomes

"I believe we are at the beginning of a 10–15 year period when most of the long sought after research questions will be answered," said University of Virginia researcher David Grissmer at a recent presentation at the Institute of Education Sciences. "These questions address why children's achievement and longer term outcomes differ so dramatically, as well as the identification of effective ways to change these outcomes."

Grissmer's presentation, "Rethinking the Importance of Early Development and Academic Skills in Shaping Later Achievement and Children's Longer Term Outcomes," focused primarily on his two recent studies that used IES' Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-B and ECLS-K, birth and kindergarten cohorts, respectively) to test hypotheses about early developmental and academic predictors of academic achievement at 8th grade. Grissmer's team analyzed multiple variables that might predict 8th grade academic achievement scores, including demographic factors (birth weight, household income, mother's age at birth, number of siblings, and the number of places a child has lived), and early general knowledge, math skills, reading skills, and fine motor skills.

Counter to the basic assumptions that underlay many educational policy discussions, Grissmer's findings suggest that subjects that build comprehension, executive function, and fine motor skills in young children are just as important as math and reading instruction in improving future academic outcomes. For instance, Grissmer found that early math skills are a much better predictor than early reading skills of both later math and reading achievement, He also found that other subjects like science and history may be just as important as math or reading in building the type of comprehension and executive functioning skills that are key to future achievement.

Grissmer and colleagues are using the results of these studies to help reshape early interventions to narrow achievement gaps and challenge assumptions that underlie current efforts to improve schools. His team has received a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to study the connection between fine motor skills and mathematical skills and another from IES to study (through a randomized control trial) the effectiveness of the Core Knowledge curriculum, which is based on the premise that early general knowledge is critical for future achievement. For more information on Grissmer's current IES-funded project, Evaluation of Core Knowledge Charter Schools in Colorado, click here.

This presentation was part of the ongoing IES Speaker Series that brings in researchers to discuss their work and its implications for current and future IES-funded education research. Following the presentation, Grissmer hosted a roundtable discussion focused on the use of ECLS-K, ECLS-B, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress for future research.