The relationship between behavior problems and academic attainment is well-established (Ladd & Burgess, 1999; McClelland, Morrison, & Holmes, 2000), but the body of literature that examines the effects on academic attainment of behavior problems emerging prior to school entry – before academic achievement is a salient task – is small (Bub, 2007; Campbell, Spieker, Burchinal, & Poe, 2006). Cross-sectional research in younger children has demonstrated that specific dimensions of externalizing behavior (e.g. inattention, hyperactivity, aggression) may have unique associations with children’s cognitive and academic skills (Friedman-Weieneth, Harvey, Youngwirth, & Goldstein, 2007).
In this study, infant-preschool inattention, hyperactivity and aggression trajectories, developed from parent reports about their 1- to 5-year-olds, were examined as predictors of subsequent direct assessments of second grade reading. Participants were 359 parent-child dyads (176 girls and 183 boys) followed longitudinally as part of an epidemiological study of young children’s social and emotional behavior problems. Given the strong association between early language and concurrent verbal IQ to reading outcomes, these factors were included as covariates in model testing. Behavior problems were assessed with the Infant – Toddler Social and Emotional Assessment (ITSEA; Carter & Briggs-Gowan, 1999; 2006) and the Child Behavior Checklist (Achenbach & Rescorla, 2002). Early language functioning was assessed through parent report on the Child Development Inventory (Ireton, 1992) and verbal intellectual functioning (Keenan, Shaw, Delliquadri, Giovannelli, & Walsh, 1998) was assessed directly with the Differential Abilities Scales (Elliott, 1990). The Woodcock Johnson III reading cluster was administered to children in second grade.
Parent reports of children’s inattentive, hyperactive, and aggressive behaviors at age 1-to-2, as well as changes in those behaviors through kindergarten, predicted reading attainment in second grade. For hyperactivity and inattention, these predictions remained strong even when verbal IQ and sociodemographic risk controls were added. Findings suggest that screening for early externalizing problems may identify children at risk for later academic problems, and that early intervention on hyperactivity and inattention may have an effect on later reading skills.