By the time they enter kindergarten, white children know significantly more about science than their peers of other races, and wealthier kids know more than less well-off peers.
And those gaps are not often erased in school: A new study published by the American Educational Research Association finds that knowing more about science in the first years of school is the strongest predictor of whether a student scores well on 8th grade science tests.
Researchers from Penn State University and the University of California, Irvine, used data from the National Center for Education Statistics to track 7,750 students from kindergarten through 8th grade.
Wealthier students started out with more knowledge in kindergarten and pulled even further ahead by 8th grade. The gap between white and black students also increased over time. Meanwhile, the divide between white students and Asian students, who started out behind their white peers, narrowed. The gap between white and Hispanic students also decreased slightly.
If at-risk children had access to stronger science programs in preschool, elementary, and middle school, the researchers suggest, they could be set on the path toward more knowledge about and interest in the sciences.
A version of this article appeared in the March 09, 2016 edition of Education Week as Early Learning