BY VALERIE ORLEANS
From Dateline (May 6, 2004)
Predicting School Success Center
Grant Continues to Support Long-Term Study
Nature or nurture? Which is more useful in
predicting whether a child will be a success in school?
In 1979, a group of professors and students embarked
on an ambitious project to answer this and other questions about
how children develop. And so began the Fullerton Longitudinal Study
led by Allen Gottfried, professor of psychology.
As of 2003, the study team has tracked 130 children
from age one through adulthood. Gottfried is still actively involved
in the study, as are Adele Gottfried of CSU Northridge; Kay Bathurst,
professor of psychology; and Pamella Oliver and Jacqueline Coffman,
assistant professors of child and adolescent studies.
“We performed an initial evaluation and home
study for each of the children,” said Diana Guerin, professor
of child and adolescent studies who was one of the original student
researchers on the project. “We would continue to gather information
on the children every six months, and then once a year after age
five through the high school years. ”
Recently, the Center for Public Policy awarded a
$2,000 grant to Guerin to analyze data from the Fullerton Longitudinal
Study – to compare preschool age predictors of early school
The child development study included assessments
of each child’s intellectual and behavioral status, as well
as home visits to determine how language was used with the children,
the types of toys available, activity levels and parent/child interactions.
Researchers also gathered information on parents’ educational
levels and occupations, how often they engaged in family, cultural
or religious activities, and how family members related to one another.
“When we analyzed all the variables, we determined
that about 20 to 25 percent of the variation in academic achievement
was explained by families’ socioeconomic status, and 25 percent
was predicted by intelligence test scores,” said Guerin. “Other
influencers that positively affected academic performance included
homes where children were read to, where language skills were developed
through games and conversations, and where, in general, parents
were providing more intellectual stimulation to their children.”
Yet there was no single predictor that spelled success.
All of the elements studied were linked: families with higher socioeconomic
status provided more intellectually stimulating home environments
and also had children with fewer behavioral problems. Even though
each of these variables predicted academic success, researchers
could not accurately predict, to a child, which ones would be held
back a year in school.
“We had a significant number of misses on who
would be detained,” Guerin said. “We were able to accurately
predict up to 98 percent of the children who would pass on to the
next level, but in terms of predicting who would be held back, we
were accurate only 20 percent of the time.
“Children’s early development is dynamic
and decisions to retain or promote students are based on unique
factors. Even with extensive information about the child’s
development in multiple domains and his/her home environment, accurate
prediction about an individual child simply was not possible,”
Out of the research have come five books on a variety
of the topics studied: temperament, cognitive development, family
development, gifted IQ and effects of maternal employment. More
than 140 papers, based on study data, were presented at academic
conferences, and the study has been cited in dozens of other books
With close to 100 students involved as researchers,
12 have gone on to pursue doctoral degrees, and 30 have been awarded
And the research continues. Recently, these not-so-youngsters
(they’re now 24) were tracked down for another interview.
So how are the “kids” – some of
who are now parents themselves – doing?
“It’s a broad range,” said Guerin.
“What is particularly exciting about the FLS is that we can
now look for links between early experiences and developmental outcomes
in early adulthood.”
So is it nature or nurture? The answer appears to
be – both.