Elementary school is the critical period for setting the stage for children’s future academic success. The most important academic skill that is developed during this period is literacy, without which most other content area material cannot be learned well. Research has found that literacy trajectories often become fixed in early elementary school, especially for children at risk. A fixed downward path in literacy during middle childhood is especially prevalent for children living in low-wealth rural communities, many of whom are African American. There are important processes at play during this middle childhood period that can help us understand children’s diverging literacy pathways. This particular developmental period is critical to our understanding of how child skills, instruction, and parenting may interact to shape the emerging competence in literacy. This project capitalizes on the data already collected on a large representative sample of children living in rural poverty who have been followed since birth.
The Family Life Project has been an 11-year project funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). This carefully-selected sample used an epidemiological frame to recruit a representative sample of every baby born to a mother who resided in one of six poor rural counties. The 1292 children in the FLP have extensive data from birth on children’s development, including: observed parenting input in the home (sensitivity, language input, and parent resources) from 6 months through 1st grade, observed quality of instruction in the classroom from K through 3rd grade, teacher ratings of literacy instructional time and content from K through 3rd grade; and child literacy skills in vocabulary, word recognition and reading comprehension from K-3rd grade. This project is adding observed quality of instruction and teacher ratings of instruction in 5th grade as well as assessed child literacy skills at 5th grade and 7th grade. Through our examination of the characteristics of families, parenting, schools, classrooms, and teachers, we will be able to better account for the different trajectories in child achievement by race, poverty, and gender as well as by school poverty level throughout elementary school and into middle school.