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Attention in First Grade Critical to Academic Success

The difference between a first grader’s attention span and that of a second grader’s is profound, according to a a new study from Duke University.

Furthermore, the age in which attention problems begin to surface makes a vital difference in a child’s future academic performance.

Other research has found a link between early attention problems and academic achievement. But the new study is the first to identify the impact of attention problems that emerge in first grade versus those that emerge just a year later.

When attention problems begin in first grade, the child’s performance suffers for years afterward. For example, these children score lower than their peers on reading achievement scores after fifth grade. This still occurred even if the attention problems were fleeting and improved after first grade.

On the other hand, children who developed attention problems starting in second grade performed as well as their peers in later years.

The research was conducted by Duke psychologists Drs. David Rabiner, Madeline Carrig and Kenneth Dodge of Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy.

The researchers looked at data from the Fast Track Project, a longitudinal study of the development of conduct problems that has followed 891 individuals in four different locales from kindergarten into adulthood.

The study examined academic performance among a subsample of 386 children by analyzing grades as well as reading and math scores before and after first grade, and again after fifth grade.

The findings may emphasize the critical importance of first grade as an academic building block, Rabiner said. Children who suffer from attention problems in first grade fail to acquire key academic skills, and because of this, their performance suffers for several years.

Rabiner added that not all first-graders who struggle to focus in school have ADHD. However, whether they have diagnosable ADHD or not, it’s important to help them in the beginning of their academic careers, when they are gathering essential building block skills.

“Even when these children overcome their attention problems, they continue to struggle in school,” Rabiner said. “The earlier we can identify children who are struggling with sustaining attention in the classroom and intervene to help them, the better.”

Rabiner noted that future research should look at kindergarten as well. Data for the study was collected beginning in the early 1990s. Since that time, kindergarten has taken on a more important academic role in many schools.

The study was recently published in the Journal of Attention Disorders.

Source:  Duke University

Attention in First Grade Critical to Academic Success

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Attention in First Grade Critical to Academic Success. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 2 Nov 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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