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The Effects of Executive Functioning, Demographics, and School Factors on Mathematics Achievement Growth During Elementary School: A Multilevel, Multivariate, and Longitudinal Analysis


This study examines how gains in mathematics achievement are related to executive processing functions and student sociodemographic characteristics across schools’ national representative longitudinal sample of children in kindergarten (K) followed through grade four in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study of 2010.

Mathematics trajectories were nonlinear, with greater gains in early versus later grades and small drops each summer. Children entering K with lower math demonstrated steeper gains over time. Relative to Caucasian children, Hispanic and African American children entered K with lower math. Hispanic children had higher growth rates whereas African American children had lower growth rates. Girls entered K with higher math, but boys gained more over time. Lower SES was associated with lower math but also steeper increases. Demographic factors explained a larger proportion of between-school differences in mathematics achievement than within-school differences in initial levels and long-term gains but not summer drops (66.23% versus 8.11% of variance at K; 17.02% versus 4.55% of variance in gains; 20% versus 0% of variance in summer drops). Similarly, shaped trajectories and demographic effects were found for working memory, while the cognitive flexibility trajectory (measured only from 2nd grade) was a more linear. Critically, just as lower math scores in K were associated with steeper growth, lower working memory in K was also associated with steeper trajectories. In addition, positive associations were observed between working memory and math in K, trajectories of working memory and cognitive flexibility were strongly associated with trajectories of mathematics achievement. A similar pattern was observed for cognitive flexibility. These inclusions of demographic covariates did not alter these associations. Overall, these findings bolster the independent importance of executive function and sociodemographic factors, with the latter explaining a large amount of between-school variability. Education stakeholders such as teachers, school administrations, and school district can rely on the research findings in designing practical models of teaching mathematics that will take into consideration the role of sociodemographic factors as well as executive functioning among students, thereby improving their overall performance.

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