Recently, evidence has emerged suggesting that executive function (EF) in early childhood is related to multiple aspects of school success, including learning, academic achievement, and social functioning. Despite this evidence, little or no research has focused on the value of EF assessment in routine early childhood assessments. The present study, with the collaboration of a large and diverse urban school district, examined the concurrent and predictive validity of EF assessment in the context of screening. Analyses focused on a sample of 461 children ages 3 to 5 years old who were assessed on three EF tasks in addition to routine screening. EF measures included two computerized NIH Toolbox measures, the Flanker and Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS) tasks, with developmental extensions (Dext) that lower the floor of these measures, and Peg Tapping. Routine screening included well-validated developmental readiness and behavioral measures. Results of multivariate analyses indicated that Flanker-Dext and DCCS-Dext worked well to lower the floor of the Toolbox EF measures and that the three EF tasks showed the expected convergent validity. Structural equation models indicated that a latent variable based on the three EF scores was highly related to performance on the developmental screener and moderately and negatively related to other screening measures, including parent-report of child social-emotional problems and screener-observed behavior problems. EF was a significant predictor of academic skills at the beginning of kindergarten and predicted growth across the school year. EF did not provide unique predictive value for predicting academic outcomes over and above other screening measures in use by this district. In contrast, EF both contributed unique predictive value for kindergarten behavior and also was the only measure administered during screening that continued to have unique predictive value for first-grade behavior (over kindergarten behavior). These findings indicate that EF is important for school success, can be assessed by brief and easy-to-learn measures during screening, and may be an important target for intervention in early childhood.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2017. Major: Child Psychology. Advisor: Ann Masten. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 90 pages.
Executive function measures in early childhood screening: Concurrent and predictive validity.
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