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Front Psychol. 2014 Jun 17;5:599. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00599. eCollection 2014.

Predictors of early growth in academic achievement: the head-toes-knees-shoulders task.

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Human Development and Family Sciences, Oregon State University Corvallis, OR, USA.
Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA, USA.
Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Michigan State University East Lansing, MI, USA.


Children's behavioral self-regulation and executive function (EF; including attentional or cognitive flexibility, working memory, and inhibitory control) are strong predictors of academic achievement. The present study examined the psychometric properties of a measure of behavioral self-regulation called the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders (HTKS) by assessing construct validity, including relations to EF measures, and predictive validity to academic achievement growth between prekindergarten and kindergarten. In the fall and spring of prekindergarten and kindergarten, 208 children (51% enrolled in Head Start) were assessed on the HTKS, measures of cognitive flexibility, working memory (WM), and inhibitory control, and measures of emergent literacy, mathematics, and vocabulary. For construct validity, the HTKS was significantly related to cognitive flexibility, working memory, and inhibitory control in prekindergarten and kindergarten. For predictive validity in prekindergarten, a random effects model indicated that the HTKS significantly predicted growth in mathematics, whereas a cognitive flexibility task significantly predicted growth in mathematics and vocabulary. In kindergarten, the HTKS was the only measure to significantly predict growth in all academic outcomes. An alternative conservative analytical approach, a fixed effects analysis (FEA) model, also indicated that growth in both the HTKS and measures of EF significantly predicted growth in mathematics over four time points between prekindergarten and kindergarten. Results demonstrate that the HTKS involves cognitive flexibility, working memory, and inhibitory control, and is substantively implicated in early achievement, with the strongest relations found for growth in achievement during kindergarten and associations with emergent mathematics.


academic achievement; early childhood; executive function; measurement; self-regulation

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