The Early Development Instrument predicts children’s future academic success

A population measure of child well-being, the Early Development Instrument (EDI) is currently being used in over 25 countries. Since 2009, the use of the instrument has grown steadily in the U.S., especially in Southern California. However, there has been no research to date that looks at the EDI’s utility in predicting future school performance among U.S. children. Our partners at UCLA, along with researchers at UCI and Purdue University, conducted a study to fill this gap, showing that the EDI is a strong predictor of children’s third grade proficiency in math and reading.

The researchers came to this conclusion after linking the EDI records of 2,976 students attending kindergarten in the 2011-12 school year in Orange County with their math and language scores from the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBA) taken three years later. California started using the SBA in the 2014-15 school year as a state-wide assessment to measure student achievement and growth in math and English starting in the third grade and was used in this study to capture academic proficiency or risk.

The EDI is a teacher reported measure of how well children are meeting developmental milestones (i.e., children are on track, at risk or vulnerable). This study specifically looked at each of the five domains of child development measured by the EDI:

  • physical health and well-being
  • social competence
  • emotional maturity
  • language and cognitive development
  • communication skills and general knowledge

The results showed that third grade proficiency increased as children were identified as on track for each of the five domains. Further analysis revealed a very strong association between academic proficiency and three of the domains (i.e., language and cognitive development; communication skills and general knowledge, and social competence). Overall, these findings are consistent with other research linking early childhood skills with future academic success.

This study also further supports the use of the EDI as a valid indicator of school readiness. Although there is growing recognition that the early years influence children’s readiness for school, there is currently no consistent measure of school readiness used across the U.S. As a result, several of the First Five Commissions are either piloting or have fully implemented the EDI in their respective counties as a tool to measure early childhood outcomes. Momentum for the EDI is growing in Los Angeles County, where two of the largest school districts (i.e., L.A. Unified and Long Beach Unified School Districts) in the county have adopted the tool with support from First 5 LA. 

For the purposes of this study, individual child data was used to demonstrate the EDI’s utility in predicting student performance on standardized state tests. However, the EDI scores are usually reported at aggregate levels and are used by different stakeholders to evaluate how programs, policies and systems are promoting children’s successful development in a particular region. To ensure that L.A. County has the right programs, policies and systems in place to support children, we need a consistent population-level measure of school readiness to help us understand what is working and what needs to change across the county and in individual communities. The L.A. Compact supports First 5 LA’s efforts to expand the EDI pilot into a county-wide tool to ensure all children are healthy and ready for school by 2028.

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