The Development of Cognitive Skills and Gains in Academic School Readiness for Children from Low-Income Families

J Educ Psychol. 2010 Feb 1;102(1):43-53. doi: 10.1037/a0016738.


This study examined developmental associations between growth in domain-general cognitive processes (working memory and attention control) and growth in domain-specific skills (emergent literacy and numeracy) across the pre-kindergarten year, and their relative contributions to kindergarten reading and math achievement. One hundred sixty-four Head Start children (44% African American or Latino; 57% female) were followed longitudinally. Path analyses revealed that working memory and attention control predicted growth in emergent literacy and numeracy skills during the pre-kindergarten year, and furthermore, that growth in these domain-general cognitive skills made unique contributions to the prediction of kindergarten math and reading achievement, controlling for growth in domain-specific skills. These findings extend research highlighting the importance of working memory and attention control for academic learning, demonstrating the effects in early childhood, prior to school entry. We discuss the implications of these findings for pre-kindergarten programs, particularly those designed to reduce the school readiness gaps associated with socio-economic disadvantage.