The Association Between Behavioral Attention and Academic Achievement: A Meta-Analysis

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Extant literature has found attention and academic achievement to be related at multiple levels throughout development (Macdonald et al., 2021; Rogers et al., 2011; Scholtens et al., 2013). Surprisingly, there are no comprehensive meta-analytic studies of the size of this effect. Therefore, the present study evaluates the relation between behavioral attention and academic achievement over 106 studies and 450 individual effect sizes, with moderators assessing: (1) study design type (group-based versus correlational); (2) type of attention (inattention versus hyperactivity); (3) academic domain (e.g., reading, writing, math) and subskills (e.g., decoding, fluency, comprehension); (4) rater (parent versus teacher); (5) gender; and (6) age. Included studies had: (1) students from Kindergarten to undergraduate level; (2) an ADHD group or behavioral attention rating measure; (3) an academic achievement measure; and (4) effect size availability (mean difference or correlation). All effect sizes were converted to pooled correlations, r. Analyses were conducted in R. The overall pooled correlation for behavioral attention and academic achievement was r = -.25 (p < .001). Meta-regression analyses were completed and significantly differed for the moderators of behavioral attention type (inattention r = -.30, hyperactivity/impulsivity r = -.13), and behavior attention rater (parent r = -.19, teacher r = -.34). There were no significant differences for the moderators of study type, academic domain or subskill, gender, or age. Post-hoc analyses found that higher academic level (e.g., combined reading comprehension, written expression, and math word problems) was more related to behavioral attention than low academic level (e.g., combined decoding, spelling, and math computation), β = -.10, t =-3.21, p < .01, 95% CI [-.17, -.04]. Overall, this meta-analysis quantified and systematized the sporadically known significant negative relation between behavioral attention and academic achievement using scientifically rigorous methodology. Results also highlight the importance of inattention (relative to hyperactivity) and teacher ratings (relative to parents) for academic achievement. These findings can help inform how students can be most appropriately identified (i.e., teacher report), which students are at greater risk of achievement difficulties (i.e., inattentive students), and which academic areas (i.e., higher-level academics) are a potential target for intervention.

behavioral attention, ADHD, academic achievement, meta-analysis