Last week the National Center for Education Statistics, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, announced that two out of three children did not meet the standards for reading proficiency set by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The average eighth-grade reading score declined in more than half of the states compared with 2017 (the last time the test was given) and the average score in fourth-grade reading declined in 17 states. Math scores remained relatively flat in most states.
Our students are underperforming and they need immediate help—especially those with the greatest deficits, who have shown the least improvement on the NAEP. Children cannot learn if they cannot focus or effectively process information. It is essential to strengthen their executive function skills—working memory, cognitive flexibility, and self-regulation—to help prime their brains for learning. These skills are crucial to planning, reasoning, problem-solving, goal-directed action, and self-motivation: the abilities that students need to be well-prepared for 21st century careers.
Fortunately, there are already proven solutions that improve executive function and show transfer to academic outcomes. Evidence-based executive function skills programs, such as cognitive games and mindfulness interventions, have no negative side effects and can be delivered at scale at relatively low cost. Some programs have yielded 80% pass rates on state standardized reading tests, resulted in 28% higher grades in core subjects, and decreased behavioral issues by 60%.
More than a decade of research has shown that executive function skills, and the prosocial behaviors they promote, are more accurate predictors of academic readiness and life success than IQ or any other performance marker. Studies have shown that children with stronger executive function skills engage more effectively with classroom learning activities and have higher reading and math achievement in elementary school than those with weaker skills.
Our children are waiting for us to catch up with the research and implement programs that work. Every school should act now to strengthen students’ executive function skills. Our recent report presents a vetted set of brain fitness programs that meet the evidence-based standards of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that schools can adopt to support students’ academic and social and emotional development.
Please contact us to find out how you can join with us in the coming months to enhance outcomes for all students in the nation.