IELS 2018 Results

Achievement scales
Scale Creation
  • The IELS scales for the 10 outcome domains were developed based on item response theory and population models using plausible values.
  • Each scale was constructed as theorized in the assessment framework.
    • However, analysis was undertaken where there was some evidence of more complex dimensionality.
    • The only case where a theoretically proposed dimension was separated into multiple dimensions as a result of the dimensionality analysis was empathy (emotion identification and emotion attribution).
  • Once scales were developed, the population model (IRT calibration model and latent regression model combined) was applied to draw five plausible values for each child (across each scale).
  • In order to generate plausible values for the ten domains of interest, multi-dimensional scaling of ten latent dimensions (domains) was conducted.
  • The multidimensional random coefficients multinomial logit model (MRCMLM) was used in two steps: national and international item calibrations, and national conditioning and production of plausible values.
  • As this is the first IELS study, the scale established will be linked to those in any future study in order to establish trends. The outcome domains were scaled and transformed such that they have an international mean of 500 and a standard deviation 100.


List of Achievement Scales
  • Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • Inhibition
  • Mental flexibility
  • Working memory
  • Emotion identification
  • Emotion attribution
  • Prosocial behaviour
  • Disruptive behaviour
  • Trust
Background scales
Scale Creation
  • Item dimensionality was first confirmed using structural equation modelling (SEM) based on the conceptual underpinning of the questions in the assessment framework and the identified structure from field test data.
  • The internal consistency of the proposed scales was then established.
    • Cronbach’s alpha was used to check internal consistency of each scaled index within the countries and to compare it between the countries.
    • The assessment of model fit was primarily conducted through reviews of the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA), the comparative fit index (CFI), and the non-normed fit index (NNFI).
    • The IELS analyses relied on robust weighted least squares estimation (WLSMV) to estimate the confirmatory factor models.
  • IELS categorical items from the context questionnaires were scaled using IRT modelling (i.e., the one-parameter Rasch model) to derive estimates of each scale for each child.
  • Weighted likelihood estimates, in short, WLE (logits), for the latent dimensions were transformed to scales with an average of 0 and a standard deviation of 1 (with equally weighted samples).
  • A composite index reflecting socioeconomic background was derived nationally, using principal component analysis of three family background indicators
    • highest parental occupational status
    • highest educational level of parents (in years of education according to ISCED)
    • household income
  • Only scale indices are reported below.


List of Background Scales
  • Staff reports of child’s global development
  • Staff reports of child’s social and emotional skills
  • Staff reports of child’s cognitive and motor skills
  • SES index score (nationally standardised)
Overview of key study results

Social-emotional skills

  • Children in Estonia identify others’ emotions more accurately and have stronger prosocial behavior than children in England or the United States, but are more disruptive.
  • Children’s social-emotional skills increase with age.
  • Children with an immigrant background have lower levels of trust and prosocial behavior than other children, but are less disruptive.
  • Learning and behavioral difficulties have negative correlations with social-emotional learning.
  • Prior ECEC attendance is not clearly related to a child’s social-emotional development.
  • Children’s social-emotional skills are associated with other areas of early learning and development (e.g., playing with other children, connecting with others, operating in groups, etc.).
  • Children’s development and learning is inter-dependent and mutually reinforcing. Children with strong prosocial skills scored more highly in other learning areas than children without these skills.


Self-regulation skills

  • Children in Estonia have high overall levels of self-regulation skills.
  • Older children have higher self-regulation scores.
  • Children from more advantaged backgrounds have stronger self-regulation than other children.
  • Children’s home language is negatively associated with self-regulation.
  • Learning and behavioral difficulties correlate with poorer self-regulation.
  • Self-regulation skills correlate more strongly with cognitive skills than social-emotional skills.


Emergent literacy and emergent numeracy

  • Children in England and Estonia show a stronger emergent literacy than children in the United States, while children in England show stronger emergent numeracy than children in either of the other two countries.
  • Children with learning or behavioral difficulties have lower level of emergent literacy and numeracy.
  • Having a home language that is different from the assessment language was negatively associated with emergent literacy scores and numeracy scores in all three participating countries.
  • Parents’ activities with their children are associated with their children’s learning. There were positive associations between frequency of reading to children from books and children’s emergent literacy scores, after accounting for SES.
  • Children from single-parent households do as well in emergent literacy as those from two-parent households, but less well on numeracy.




  • Gender differences were clearly evident in children at 5 years of age in all three countries and were most apparent in emergent literacy and social-emotional skills.
  • Girls have significantly stronger skills than boys in emergent literacy, early empathy, prosocial behavior, and trust and are less disruptive.
  • The direct assessment found no discernible differences between girls and boys in emergent numeracy, although girls were reported by their parents and teachers as having higher levels of emergent numeracy than boys.
  • Overall, girls demonstrated slightly stronger skills than boys in the direct assessment of self-regulation, but parent and teacher reports for girls were more positive than for boys.
  • Boys are two times as likely as girls to be reported by their parents as having learning difficulties, such as speech or language delays, or social, emotional, or behavioral difficulties.
  • Families provide boys and girls with same early learning opportunities.
  • Boys and girls are equally likely to participate in early childhood education and care programs.



  • Children from high socio-economic groups have significantly stronger skills in almost all measures in the study, including emergent literacy, emergent numeracy, working memory, identifying others’ emotions, prosocial behaviors, and trust.
  • Children from low socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to be reported as having learning or behavioral difficulties, especially boys.
  • Children from low socio-economic backgrounds, whose parents read to them every day, had children’s books at home, and were involved in their ECEC centers/schools, achieved significantly higher outcomes than children whose parents did not undertake these activities.



  • Most five-year-olds are using electronic devices regularly, yet this is not strongly associated with their learning and development.
  • The use of electronic devices amongst these children is more prevalent in the United States and least prevalent in Estonia.
  • The regular use of electronic devices weekly or monthly was positively associated with higher scores in some countries in emergent literacy and self-regulation.



  • Children who attended ECEC had stronger emergent literacy and emergent numeracy than children who did not attend, after accounting for socio-economic background.
  • Children who have books at home and whose parents are involved in their ECEC center or school have higher scores in emergent literacy, emergent numeracy, prosocial behavior, and trust, and are less disruptive.
  • Mother’s education is positively associated with a child’s social-emotional skills, self-regulation, and learning.
Other sources