Methods. Using data from 4,144 students who participated in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Kindergarten Cohort of 2011 public access data file, a parallel latent growth model was fit to investigate whether the functional form of attention development (i.e., intercept and slope) from kindergarten through third grade was related to the functional form of reading development. We also explored whether the initial values and rates of growth of attention problems and reading skills varied by child race, gender, and poverty status. All analyses were conducted in Stata version 16 and Mplus version 8.1.
Results. Attention problems and reading skills independently grew through third grade. Higher initial levels of attention problems were associated with lower initial reading scores. Students with higher initial levels of attention problems experienced reduced growth in reading. Higher initial reading scores were associated with greater growth in attention problems. There was a significant negative correlation between slope of attention problems and reading. White students, girls, and students from low-income families had lower levels of initial attention problems and higher initial reading scores. Black students and students from low-income families made less growth in reading. Attention problems in girls grows at a faster rate than for boys.
Conclusions and Implications. This study presented new evidence that the development of attention and reading skills—not just moment in time observations—vary by child race, gender, and poverty status. This study raises important questions about how social work practitioners and scholars might leverage these findings to support students to become successful readers and full participants in their education. There is a need to develop and evaluate interventions to bolster attentional capacity to more effectively support the development of reading skills, particularly among girls. School social workers can advocate for small group reading, one-on-one instruction, and computerized attention and working memory training, which support the development of attention and reading skills. Findings from this study also highlight the potency of teacher ratings of students’ attentive behavior in predicting their academic outcomes. Unfortunately, these ratings are vulnerable to biases and are unstable over time; thus, school social workers can advocate for nuanced, ongoing assessment of attention problems and anti-bias teacher training is recommended.