Roots and development of achievement gaps

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Isotis project

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Wetenschappelijk onderzoek

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The early years of life, before entering school, are formative for patterns of inequality in educational achievement between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and between children with and without a migration background. Therefore, providing support before school age to children from families with less economical and educational resources, and to children who or their parents were born in a different country has the potential of reducing future achievement gaps.

This is one of the central recommendations of the new ISOTIS report Roots and developmenof achievement gaps - A Longitudinal assessment in selected European countries, based on results from Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom, and Italy. The report analyses the evolution of achievement gaps in children from infancy and preschool age up to end of compulsory schooling. It was edited by Giampiero Passaretta and Jan Skopek (Trinity College Dublin), and co-authored by colleagues from the University of Utrecht, University of Oslo and University of Milano-Bicocca.

The authors found that children from high-income families and from parents with a high level of education perform better than children from less affluent families and whose parents have less educational resources. Importantly, these socio-economically determined gaps are already visible in the very early years of life, tend to increase steadily over infancy, and are well established even before children enter primary school. After transition to school, socio-economically determined gaps in achievement remain quite stable, and increase only slightly throughout years of primary and secondary education. Considerable similarities in the evolution of socio-economically determined achievement gaps were found across countries. The authors conclude that preschool-age interventions that facilitate a more equalized start into school life hold the promise of reducing a large part of socio-economically determined achievement gaps in later school career.

Children with a migration background enter school with a substantial disadvantage, but enjoy over-proportional achievement gains in school in general. Yet these findings vary between countries and target groups. In some countries, initial disadvantages of children with a migrant background vanish almost entirely after school entry. When starting into school at the same achievement level, many children with migrant background are outperforming children of native families. Thus, the authors conclude that reducing migration-related inequality in preschool age could have the potential to eradicate children's penalties in school-age, and contribute to high educational achievement.

That authors highlight that preschool- and school-age interventions may include policies expanding Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services or improving the quality of ECEC services or schools, and also policies targeting the families' home or neighbourhood, through appropriate financial and social support.

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