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Before They Get to Kindergarten: New Research Sheds Light on the Value of Early EF Screening.

This article is part of our weekly series Executive Function Tips for Families.

Unlike most assessments of school readiness, Executive Function (EF) screenings focus on essential cognitive skills like inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility. These skills predict success in school. They can also be improved during preschool years with the right support.

Recent research by scientists from the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development and Cynthia K. Hillyer, Director of Early Childhood Education for Minneapolis Public Schools, is shedding light on the pivotal role of Executive Function (EF) screening in early learning. Their study “Executive function measures in early childhood screening: concurrent and predictive validity“ published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly revealed that EF stands as a significant predictor of academic progress throughout the kindergarten year. The study also suggests that assessments specifically for EF might capture unique aspects of a child’s development that are crucial for classroom learning but often overlooked in standard screenings. For parents striving to grasp the nuances of their children’s transition into school, these findings present a fresh perspective.

About The Study

A team of researchers set out to explore the significance of Executive Function screening in early childhood education. Their study aimed to understand how EF skills influence young learners’ academic and social outcomes, and also whether EF screens were able to predict learning any better than traditional developmental screenings.

What Exactly is Executive Function?

At its core, Executive Function is a set of cognitive skills essential for planned and focused behavior. These skills encompass inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and working memory. Put simply, EF helps guide our actions, emotions, and thoughts, acting as a sort of “control center” in the brain.

Key Goals and Findings of the Study

The researchers had specific goals in minds.

  • Assess the development of EF in preschool children.
  • Understand the relationship between EF and academic and social-emotional outcomes.
  • Compare the predictive value of EF with other developmental screeners.

The results were insightful. EF emerged as a notable predictor of learning throughout the kindergarten year. In contrast, traditional developmental screeners – which assess general knowledge, language, physical health, and social-emotional functioning, – didn’t provide additional insights beyond the initial academic assessments. This indicates that EF assessments might capture aspects of a child’s development that are vital for classroom learning but aren’t typically addressed in standard screenings.

[Executive Function] emerged as a notable predictor of learning throughout the kindergarten year.

Implications for Parents

The study’s findings emphasize the importance of early EF screening, before kindergarten. Measuring EF skills early provides an opportunity to understand a child’s strengths and areas for growth in EF. This gives parents and educators an opportunity to tailor interventions and environments to support that child’s development, giving them a head start in their academic journey. Parents can screen their child’s EF online.

Importantly, the research points to the adaptability of EF skills during the preschool years. With appropriate support and environment, these skills can be developed and refined, setting children up for success in both their academic and social interactions.


Wrapping Up

Screening for Executive Function in early childhood is more than just another test—it’s a window into understanding how our children think, learn, and interact. This research paper offers a nuanced perspective on early childhood development, highlighting the importance of Executive Function. For parents, educators, and healthcare professionals, it’s an invitation to consider the role of EF in early childhood assessments. As we continue to learn more about child development, understanding aspects like EF can help us better support our children’s growth and learning.