Differential ability and attainment in language and arithmetic of Dutch primary school pupils

A.J. Mooij*, Geert Driessen

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Background. In pre-school and primary education pupils differ in many abilities and competences (‘giftedness’). Yet mainstream educational practice seems rather homogeneous in providing age-based or grade-class subject matter approaches. Aims. To clarify whether pupils scoring initially at high ability level do develop and attain differently at school with respect to language and arithmetic compared with pupils displaying other initial ability levels. To investigate whether specific individual, family or educational variables co-vary with the attainment of these different types of pupils in school. Samples. Data from the large-scale PRIMA cohort study including a total of 8258 grade 2 and 4 pupils from 438 primary schools in The Netherlands. Methods. Secondary analyses were carried out to construct gain scores for both language and arithmetic proficiency and a number of behavioural, attitudinal, family and educational characteristics. The pupils were grouped into different ability categories (highly able; able; above average; average and below). Further analyses used Pearson correlations and analyses of variance both between and within ability categories. Cross-validation was done by introducing a cohort of younger pupils in pre-school and grouping both cohorts into decile groups based on initial ability in language and arithmetic. Results. Highly able pupils generally decreased in attainment in both language and arithmetic, whereas pupils in average and below average groups improved their language and arithmetic scores. Only with highly able pupils were some educational characteristics correlated with the pupils’ development in achievement, behaviour and attitudes. Conclusions. Pre-school and primary education should better match pupils’ differences in abilities and competences from their start in pre-school to improve their functioning, learning processes and outcomes. Recommendations for educational improvement strategies are presented in closing.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)491-506
    Number of pages16
    JournalBritish Journal of Educational Psychology
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 24 Dec 2010


    • Differential ability
    • Pupil's attainment
    • Longitudinal research
    • Preschool and primary school
    • School effects
    • Gifted underachievement
    • Dutch language
    • Arithmetic
    • Differentiated curriculum effects
    • Age-based education


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