The Early Achievement and Development Gap. How early in life do we see evidence of achievement and developmental gaps?


Gaps in achievement and development by socioeconomic status (SES) begin well before kindergarten, and these gaps widen as children grow older.[1] Gaps in development between low-income (family income at or below 200 percent FPL) and higher income (family income above 200 percent FPL) children are detectable as early as 9 months of age, and widen by 24 months of age.[2] Differences in achievement by maternal education, race/ethnicity, and home language are also evident at 9 and 24 months of age.[3] At 9 months, infants from low-income families are very slightly behind their higher income peers in cognitive skills (about .16 of a standard deviation (SD))[a]. Also, their parents rate them as less healthy and displaying fewer positive behaviors. By 24 months, the cognitive skill gap and behavior gap have widened further (to .5 and nearly .33 of a SD, respectively).[4] The findings from a recent small study suggest that, by 24 months of age, children from families with lower SES (based on parental education and occupation level) are 6 months behind in language development compared to children from higher SES families. ┬аFurther, between 18 and 24 months of age, lower SES children appear to learn 30 percent fewer words compared to children from higher SES families.[5] However, while not generalizable to all infants and toddlers because of the study's sample size and sampling method (convenience sample), these findings provide suggestive evidence for the existence of this early gap.

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