According to a recent study by Dr. Tracy Alloway, assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Florida, not your socioeconomic status doesn’t predict your longer-term academic success, instead, your working memory – your ability to remember and process information – is a much better predictor of learning outcomes. I know a lot of people I respect won’t like this research a bit at first hand and will scrutinize it thoroughly but… bear a moment because it could be again a piece of an interesting puzzle.
From the press release (with some bold by me):
Socioeconomic status has long been linked with school success. The income-achievement gap is evident in kindergarten and accelerates over time, but does where you live affect grades and other cognitive skills?
Students from economically disadvantaged families often achieve lower test scores and are more likely to drop out of school, and cognitive factors like IQ and working memory — our ability to work with information — are also linked to school success.
In the study, Alloway, author of “The Working Memory Advantage,” compared the predictive power of both socioeconomic status and cognitive factors in longer-term school success. The study revealed that socioeconomic levels didn’t predict longer-term academic success, whereas cognitive skills, such as working memory, did.
Alloway recruited approximately 260 British children in kindergarten and tested their learning outcomes two years later. The children were selected from demographically representative schools, using free school meals, a poverty index used in England. The schools represented a range of low (7 to 13 percent), middle (15 to 25 percent) and high (34 to 45 percent) free school-meal rates in each local educational authority.
In kindergarten, children completed a range of cognitive tests, including verbal working memory, short-term memory and sentence memory; nonverbal IQ, like assembling puzzles; and phonological awareness, which is the measure of sensitivity of the phonological structure of words, including the ability to recognize and identify sounds and rhymes. Two years later, the same children took national achievement tests in reading, writing and math.
There were several key findings, including working memory scores predict learning scores two years later, but socioeconomic status didn’t predict learning scores two years later. “This result could possibly be due to other factors, such as educational opportunities, which have a greater influence as the student ages,” said Alloway.
Her study, published this month in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, also found that socioeconomic status didn’t affect working memory scores, but it did affect IQ scores. These findings are important because they establish that working memory is one of the most important building blocks for learning.
“A child’s ability to work with information is an important predictor of academic success. Even more exciting is that this important cognitive skill isn’t greatly affected by a child’s socio-economic background, suggesting that such tests measure learning potential, rather than educational opportunity or acquired knowledge,” said Alloway.
Overall, Alloway’s findings from the study indicate that where you live doesn’t have to determine a student’s academic success, and other factors, like working memory, play a more important role.
So the basic idea is that with looking at the working memory could be a better predictor of academic success rather than IQ because it’s less influenced by SES. This fragment of the conclusion is therefor relevant:
“There were two key findings in the current study. The first was the differential effect of SES on cognitive skills. Whereas SES levels were linked to disparate performance levels in tests that draw on long-term knowledge (IQ, phonological awareness, and sentence memory), there was no difference in working memoryperformance. The second finding indicated that SES levels did not predict longer term academic success, whereas cognitive skills such as working memory and phonological awareness did.”
Abstract of the research:
Learning outcomes are associated with a variety of environmental and cognitive factors, and the aim of the current study was to compare the predictive power of these factors in longitudinal outcomes. We recruited children in kindergarten and tested their learning outcomes 2 years later. In kindergarten, children completed tests of IQ, phonological awareness, and memory (sentence memory, short-term memory, and working memory). After 2 years, they took national assessments in reading, writing, and math. Working memory performance was not affected by socioeconomic status (SES), whereas IQ, phonological awareness, and sentence memory scores differed as a function of SES. A series of hierarchical regression analyses indicated that working memory and phonological awareness were better predictors of learning than any other factors tested, including SES. Educational implications include providing intervention during the early years to boost working memory and phonological awareness so as to prevent subsequent learning difficulties.