Developmental Delays in Executive Function from 3 to 5 Years of Age Predict Kindergarten Academic Readiness
Substantial evidence has established that individual differences in executive function (EF) in early childhood are uniquely predictive of children's academic readiness at school entry. The current study tested whether growth trajectories of EF across the early childhood period could be used to identify a subset of children who were at pronounced risk for academic impairment in kindergarten. Using data that were collected at the age 3, 4, and 5 home assessments in the Family Life Project (N = 1,120), growth mixture models were used to identify 9% of children who exhibited impaired EF performance (i.e., persistently low levels of EF that did not show expected improvements across time). Compared to children who exhibited typical trajectories of EF, the delayed group exhibited substantial impairments in multiple indicators of academic readiness in kindergarten (Cohen's ds = 0.9-2.7; odds ratios = 9.8-23.8). Although reduced in magnitude following control for a range of socioeconomic and cognitive (general intelligence screener, receptive vocabulary) covariates, moderate-sized group differences remained (Cohen's ds = 0.2-2.4; odds ratios = 3.9-5.4). Results are discussed with respect to the use of repeated measures of EF as a method of early identification, as well as the resulting translational implications of doing so.