CSRP’s Impact on Low-Income Preschoolers’ Preacademic Skills: Self-Regulation as a Mediating Mechanism
Raver, C. C., Jones, S. M., Li-Grining, C., Zhai, F., Bub, K., & Pressler, E. (2011). CSRP’s Impact on Low-Income Preschoolers’ Preacademic Skills: Self-Regulation as a Mediating Mechanism. Child Development, 82(1), 362–378. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01561.x
Based on theoretically driven models, the Chicago School Readiness Project (CSRP) targeted low-income children’s school readiness through the mediating mechanism of self-regulation. The CSRP is a multicomponent, cluster-randomized efficacy trial implemented in 35 Head Start–funded classrooms (N = 602 children). The analyses confirm that the CSRP improved low-income children’s self-regulation skills (as indexed by attention/impulse control and executive function) from fall to spring of the Head Start year. Analyses also suggest significant benefits of CSRP for children’s preacademic skills, as measured by vocabulary, letter-naming, and math skills. Partial support was found for improvement in children’s self-regulation as a hypothesized mediator for children’s gains in academic readiness. Implications for programs and policies that support young children’s behavioral health and academic success are discussed.
Over the past 5 years, rates of poverty in the United States have risen, with 18% of our nation’s children currently living in families earning less than $22,000 a year (Douglas-Hall & Chau, 2008). Two decades of developmental and clinical research suggest that poverty poses significant threats to young children’s emotional and behavioral development, as well as for their chances of school success (see Aber, Jones, & Cohen, 2000; Costello, Keeler, & Angold, 2001; Morales & Guerra, 2006). For example, while many low-income children maintain resilient profiles of school readiness with teachers and peers, others do not appear to fare as well. Past research suggests that young children who persistently exhibit dysregulated and disruptive behavior in the classroom have been less engaged and less positive about their role as learners, and have fewer opportunities for learning from peers and teachers (Arnold et al., 2006; Raver, Garner, & Smith-Donald, 2007). These and other correlational findings provided compelling rationale for the Chicago School Readiness Project (CSRP), an emotionally and behaviorally focused classroom-based intervention designed to support low-income preschoolers’ school readiness.
The CSRP is a multicomponent, cluster-randomized efficacy trial implemented in 35 Head Start– funded classrooms (N = 602 children). Based on theoretically driven models of behavioral processes in the contexts of economic disadvantage, the CSRP was designed to support low-income children’s self-regulation and their opportunities to learn in early educational settings. The CSRP intervention built on existing community resources to support children’s optimal development, providing teachers with extensive training and support on effectively managing children’s dysregulated behavior. Importantly, the intervention did not provide services or training on teachers’ language, preliteracy, or math instruction, nor were curricula provided to support children’s language, letter-naming, or math skills. In this way, randomizing the CSRP intervention services to some Head Start programs and not others offered a valuable opportunity to detect whether it was possible to experimentally induce change in children’s self-regulation, and consequently allowed for a conservative test of the causal role of children’s emotional and behavioral competence for their academic achievement (see Raver, 2002).
Are children’s self-regulatory skills the mechanism through which such an intervention would have benefits for children’s preacademic skills? And what were the results of such an intervention? The present study addresses these questions as well as highlights the implications of our findings for programs and policies supporting the school readiness of young low-income children. In so doing, our study is part of an emerging area of research at the intersection of developmental psychology and prevention science, where findings from theoretically driven intervention studies offer the opportunity to examine the modifiability of children’s emotional and behavioral processes while also providing tests of the efficacy of new program approaches.