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Study: Canadian nine-year-olds at school

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At the age of 9, children varied widely in their school achievement. Some of these variations were linked to their gender, the income level of their household and the province of residence.

There were also marked differences in the "education environment" of the child. These differences were linked most consistently to levels of household income. The education environment includes parental attitudes about education, the parents' involvement in the child's school and homework and their participation in school activities.

In addition, this analysis found a complex link between a child's academic performance and the ability to pay attention in school at the age of 9. At this age, children with lower attention skills tended to have a lower academic achievement than those with higher levels. For some measures, this effect was stronger for girls than for boys.

Children with high attention ability score higher in mathematics than those with lower attention ability

Children with higher attention skills were less likely than others to have repeated a grade, to be participating in special education, or to be receiving tutoring or extra help for academic problems.

School achievement

At the age of 9, girls and boys did not differ in mathematics achievement in either grade 3 or grade 4. However, girls were rated higher than boys in attention ability, and were more likely to be reported by their parents as doing well at school overall and in reading and written work. Girls were less likely than boys to receive tutoring or extra help for academic problems.

Children from households with very low income tended to have lower achievement than children from more affluent households on many measures.

A higher percentage of children from very low income households had repeated a grade compared with those from higher income households. More children from very low income households had parents who reported that they were not doing well at school than did children from higher income households.

Students in Prince Edward Island in grade 4 scored significantly higher in mathematics achievement than students in all other provinces, except Quebec. Students in both Quebec and British Columbia scored higher than those in many other provinces.

Note to readers

This release is based on a report that provides an overview of the school achievement of 9-year-old Canadian children in 2006/2007. It focuses on similarities and differences between girls and boys; between children from low-income and higher-income homes; among provinces; and, where relevant, among communities of different sizes.

The report examines the education environments of the children and the links between environment and achievement. It also investigates links between school readiness indicators at age 5 and school achievement at age 9, when the children were in grade 3 and grade 4.

The children studied in this research project included all 9-year-olds in the third cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY). These children were born between April and December 1997, and were 9 years old as of December 31, 2006. Altogether, 3,379 children were included in the sample, representing about 373,300 9-year-olds in the population. Of these, 55,700 were in grade 3 and 308,900 were in grade 4.

In this report, very low income refers to household income below the low-income cut-off. Low attention scores are those falling at or below the 25th percentile.

A preliminary report was published in The Daily of November 24, 2008, when data for this cohort participating in the seventh cycle of the NLSCY were made available.

Education environments

Overall, 9-year-old children had parents who valued good grades at school, and were optimistic about the future education attainments of their children.

Expectations for future education varied among income levels. A lower percentage of children from very low income households than from higher income households had parents who expected them to attend university.

Children living in smaller communities were less likely than those in large urban centres to have parents who hoped that they would attend university. This finding may be linked to the availability of postsecondary education options in their communities, as suggested by earlier research on university attendance.

Most 9-year-olds had parents who were actively involved in their children's schooling, and who talked with their children daily about school work and school friends, monitored homework, and participated in activities at their children's school.

At the age of 9, school children varied considerably in the frequency with which they were assigned homework. More than half of them had daily homework, while 15% had homework once a week or less.

In most western provinces, less than half of the children were reported to have daily homework. In most of the Atlantic provinces and in Quebec, over 70% had daily homework, while children in Ontario and Nova Scotia fell in the middle range.

Daily homework varies from province to province for 9-year-old children

Of the children who had daily homework, 82% had parents who reported checking or providing help with their homework every day. Another 12% reported doing so a few times a week.

Even among children who did not have daily homework, 26% had parents who reported checking or providing help with homework daily, while 42% had parents who did so a few times a week.

School readiness indicators at the age of 5 associated with school achievement four years later

School readiness refers to the abilities, behaviours and attitudes that children bring with them when they start school. This report considered four measures of school readiness: number knowledge; copying and the use of symbols; receptive vocabulary; and attention ability.

Overall, 9-year-old children in grades 3 and 4 who had higher scores in number knowledge at the age of 5 had significantly higher achievement in mathematics at the age of 9 than those with lower scores. This was also the case for 9-year-old children who had a stronger ability to copy and use symbols when they were 5 years old.

 Mathematics score at age 9 for children in grade 3 and 4 is linked to school readiness indicators at age 5

Children with high attention ability at age 5 were likely to show high attention ability at age 9.

Children with higher scores on the school readiness indicators were less likely to have repeated a grade, or to be enrolled in special education or in tutoring programs for academic problems.

These links between school readiness indicators at the age of 5 and school outcomes at the age of 9 appeared for both girls and boys, and for children from very low income and higher income households.

The findings support previous academic research that shows that the academic knowledge and skill that children bring to their first days of school contributes to their subsequent learning in early grades.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 4450.

The study "Canadian nine-year-olds at School" is now available as part of the Children and Youth Research Paper Series, 2006/2007 (89-599-M2009006, free), from the Publications module of our website.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (toll-free 1-800-461-9050; 613-951-3321;, Special Surveys Division.