BACKGROUND. Previous research has indicated that childhood behavioral disturbances predict lower scores on academic tests and curtail educational attainment. It is unknown which types of childhood behavioral problems are most likely to predict these outcomes.

METHODS. An ethnically diverse cohort was assessed at 6 years of age for behavioral problems and IQ and at 17 years of age for academic achievement in math and reading. Of the original cohort of 823 children, 693 (84%) had complete data. Multiple regressions were used to estimate associations of attention and internalizing and externalizing problems at age 6 and with math and reading achievement at age 17, adjusting for IQ and indicators of family socioeconomic status.

RESULTS. Adjusting for IQ, inner-city community, and maternal education and marital status, teacher ratings of attention, internalizing behavior, and externalizing problems at age 6 significantly predict math and reading achievement at age 17. When types of problems are examined simultaneously, attention problems predict math and reading achievement with little attenuation, whereas the influence of externalizing and internalizing problems is materially reduced and not significant.

CONCLUSIONS. Interventions that target attention problems at school entry should be tested as a potential avenue for improving educational achievement.

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