Evidence suggests the following benchmarks are important markers of future success along the STEM continuum. Due to greater availability of research and assessment in mathematics, more evidence was found for benchmarks in this area than in science. These benchmarks informed the STEM in Minnesota cradle-to-career project committee in selecting key measures.

Mathematical skill at kindergarten entry

Mathematical skills upon kindergarten entry, such as knowledge of numbers and ordinality, appear to be a strong predictor of later academic achievement. A meta-analysis of several longitudinal data sets found that skills at kindergarten entry in math may be an even stronger predictor of later reading and math achievement than skills in the areas of reading, attention, and social behavior. Early math skills were also as large a predictor of later reading achievement as early reading skills (1, 2).

Children who enter kindergarten able to recognize basic numbers and shapes and understand the concept of relative size are more likely to demonstrate more advanced reading and math skills in the spring of kindergarten and first grade. Ability to recognize letters at kindergarten entry and being read to at least three times a week also relate to mathematics achievement in spring of kindergarten and first grade (3). Building mathematical competency, as well as early literacy skills, can be a targeted area of intervention in the early years which promotes later academic success.

Overall school readiness

Although early math skills are important, school readiness involves skills, behaviors, and attitudes across multiple domains, including language, literacy, math, socio-emotional development, the arts, and physical health. Smooth transitions to kindergarten are supported by proficiency in various skills. For this reason, school readiness encompasses readiness in multiple domains (4).

Elementary school math proficiency

Students lacking foundational math skills will not succeed later in algebra. They need to build skills in elementary and middle school that will enable them to succeed in algebra when they reach 8th grade.

Interest in STEM

Seeds for persistence in STEM at the high school level are planted much earlier. Elementary school students need positive relationships and learning opportunities that increase their self-efficacy in math and science and prepare them for middle school studies and opportunities (5). An early interest in STEM is needed to motivate students to develop the knowledge and skills they will need in order to pursue rigorous STEM coursework in high school (6).

Recognition and support of signs of talent

As articulated in a report from the National Science Board, increasing STEM proficiency and encouraging excellence are complementary strategies. However, too often we fail to identify and adequately support those demonstrating exceptional talent in these areas. Students with potential to become STEM leaders and innovators come from every demographic group, but their access to resources necessary to support this talent may be heavily influenced by factors such as local program availability and family support. To some extent, early recognition of talent may be hindered by assessments which measure verbal and mathematical aptitude but not spatial ability, an area in which many STEM doctorate recipients excel.

The report, Preparing the next generation of STEM innovators (7), recommends that we "improve the identification of potential STEM innovators—especially among underrepresented populations—by augmenting teacher training and using talent assessments that:

The report also states that because initial interest in STEM is formed or discouraged early, it is important to recognize and encourage high potential in STEM early in life through both formal and informal education. This may be especially important for low-income students, who are much more likely to fall out of and less likely to rise into the top quarter of their class in K-12 than their higher-income peers (6).

References:

1. Duncan, G., Dowsett, C., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A., Klebanov, P. . . . Japel, C. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1428-1446.

2. Hojnoski, R. L., Silberglitt, B., & Floyd, R. G. (2009). Sensitivity to growth over time of the preschool numeracy indicators with a sample of preschoolers in Head Start. School Psychology Review, 38(3), 402–418.

3. Denton, K., & West, J. (2002). Children's reading and mathematics achievement in kindergarten and first grade (NCES No. 2002125). Retrieved from National Center for Education Statistics website: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/2002125.pdf

4. Human Capital Research Collaborative. (2011). Assessing the validity of Minnesota school readiness indicators: Summary report. Retrieved from http://humancapitalrc.org/mn_school_readiness_indicators.pdf

5. McClure, P., & Rodriguez, A. (2007). Factors related to advanced course-taking patterns, persistence in science technology engineering and mathematics, and the role of out-of-school time programs: A literature review. Retrieved from The Coalition for Science After School website: http://dev.afterschoolscience.org/pdf/member_publications/LiteratureReview-factorsrelated.pdf

6. Afterschool Alliance. (2011). STEM learning in afterschool: An analysis of impact and outcomes.  Retrieved from http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/STEM-Afterschool-Outcomes.pdf

7. National Science Foundation, National Science Board. (2010). Preparing the next generation of STEM innovators: Identifying and developing our nation's human capital (No. NSB-10-33). Retrieved from http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/publications/2010/nsb1033.pdf