Do Preschool Math and Reading Skills Predict College Success? Nope.

Preschool used to be pretty fun for kids. Lots of play, lots of hanging out with other kids and making friends. But in recent years, an increasing number of preschools have started teaching subjects like math and reading. The rationale is that kids need solid academic skills if they’re going to succeed in college and beyond. Sounds logical, but it turns out that it isn’t even close to being right.

A new study from Oregon State University found that that social and behavioral skills, such as paying attention, following directions and completing a task may be even more crucial than academic abilities.

Megan McClelland, an OSU early child development researcher and lead author of the paper said “Our study shows that the biggest predictor of college completion wasn’t math or reading skills, but whether or not they were able to pay attention and finish tasks at age 4.”

Parents of preschoolers were asked to rate their children on items such as “plays with a single toy for long periods of time” or “child gives up easily when difficulties are encountered.” Reading and math skills were assessed at age 7. And at age 21, the same group was tested again for reading and math skills.

Achievement in reading and math didn’t influence whether a child would finish college or not. But the kids whose parents rated them high on attention span and persistence at age 4 had nearly 50 percent greater odds of getting a bachelor’s degree by age 25.

“Academic ability carries you a long way, but these other skills are also important,” McClelland said. “Increasingly, we see that the ability to listen, pay attention, and complete important tasks is crucial for success later in life.”

Makes me feel a lot better about constantly harping at my kids to pay attention, focus, listen.

You can read an abstract of the study here.

Do Preschool Math and Reading Skills Predict College Success? Nope. was last modified: March 21st, 2014 by Armin


  1. dadblunders says:

    I wonder if they took into account “gifted children” in the study. Gifted children often become bored easily and may not pay any attention to what is going on. It has nothing to do with lack of focus or attention but their lack of challenge. Just a thought from me…..


    • Not sure. I’ll have to look more carefully. I know they controlled for a number of factors (including, oddly, maternal education level–but not paternal), not sure about giftedness.

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