Academic Achievement and Relations to Externalizing Behavior: Much Ado About Nothing?

Tara Kulkarni, Amanda L. Sullivan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Some of the worst long-term outcomes of children are associated with the presence of externalizing behavior and low academic achievement. However, the nature of the causal and predictive relationship between these two domains remains contested due to inconsistent findings in previous literature. Leveraging a nationally representative sample (N = 7330) from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS)–Kindergarten Cohort of 2011, we used latent class growth analysis and machine learning cross validation techniques to analyze the association of early math and reading achievement with the development of externalizing behavior trajectories in elementary school. Several theoretically and empirically important covariates were utilized to develop a profile of learners in each trajectory. Results indicated stable teacher ratings of behavior across kindergarten to fifth grade and three primary trajectories, consisting of (1) higher persistent, (2) low persistent, and (3) no problem behavior. Importantly, teacher rated early inattention and approaches to learning behaviors, rather than direct standardized measures of academic achievement, were the strongest malleable predictors to trajectory membership. Student demographics, including being a boy and identifying as Black, contributed to these students being almost twice as likely to belong to the higher problem behavior trajectory as compared to girls and White peers. Educational implications for intervention, as well as the influence of implicit bias and structural racism in the role of teacher ratings, are discussed.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalJournal of School Psychology
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022


  • Externalizing behavior
  • Academic achievement
  • Child development
  • Racial disparities

Cite this