Examining the Contribution of Self-Regulation and Executive Function Skills to School Readiness and Longer-Term Achievement Gaps: A Replication and Extension in Statewide and National Datasets
Self-regulation in early childhood encompasses higher-order executive function processes and lower-order emotional responses that enable children to navigate the classroom environment. Although self-regulation and executive functions are overlapping constructs, self-regulation represents a broad assessment of children’s ability to call upon executive function processes in order to meet contextual demands. Prior research has demonstrated the utility of teacher-rated classroom self-regulation and individually-assessed executive functions through evidence of their independent associations with academic achievement. Yet, the unique contribution of these skills to achievement gaps are largely unknown. The two studies in this dissertation establish the roles of individual executive function skills and classroom self-regulation for school readiness gaps and longer-term achievement among two particularly vulnerable subgroups of children: students from economically disadvantaged families and English-language learners (ELLs). Acknowledging the importance of replication for the robustness of scientific results across contexts, questions were addressed using Oregon’s statewide kindergarten assessment data (OKA) and data from the most recent cohort of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Kindergarten (ECLS-K). Study 1 estimated the kindergarten and third grade achievement gaps among economically disadvantaged students and ELLs nationally and in Oregon and investigated whether these gaps could be partially explained by classroom self-regulation skills, individual executive functions, or both. Results uncovered only slight differences in the magnitude of achievement gaps experienced by children in Oregon when compared to children nationally. Classroom self-regulation significantly explained school readiness gaps for economically disadvantaged children and ELLs nationally and in Oregon. Furthermore, after accounting for classroom self-regulation skills, individual executive functions significantly explained achievement gaps for both groups in kindergarten and third grade nationally. Study 2 investigated whether classroom self-regulation skills, executive functions skills, or both could compensate for the negative effects of economic disadvantage being of ELL status on kindergarten and third grade academic achievement. Results revealed compensatory effects of classroom self-regulation on third grade academic achievement among economically disadvantaged students and ELLs nationally. Furthermore, having strong attentional flexibility and working memory served as additional protective factors for third achievement nationally. Together, the results from these studies expand our knowledge on the specificity and generalizability of developmental processes across subgroups and contexts. Implications for targeted interventions developed to close achievement gaps and recommendations for the selection of statewide kindergarten assessments are discussed.