Parents of premature newborns often have concerns about their child’s ability to perform well academically.
A large-scale study conducted by researchers at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University and Northwestern Medicine reassures those parents that their children may potentially be academically ready for kindergarten.
The findings revealed that two-thirds of infants born at 23 or 24 weeks were completely ready for kindergarten and two percent of those children achieved a gifted status at school. While those preemies received low scores on standardized tests, preemies born at 25 weeks or later only performed slightly lower, when compared to full-term babies. The variances in standardized test scores were insignificant, as the length of pregnancy increased after 28 weeks.
The researchers believe the study is the first analysis of its kind.
“What excites me about this study is that it changes the focus for the clinician and families at the bedside from just focusing on the medical outcomes of the child to what the future educational outcomes might be for a child born early,” said co-author Dr. Craig Garfield, associate professor of pediatrics and medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
The research team examined data of approximately 1.3 million infants born in Florida from 1992 to 2002. The infants’ gestational ages ranged between 23 to 41 weeks. They were enrolled into Florida public schools by their parents between 1995 and 2012. The researchers compared the children’s Florida public school records and vital statistic records to determine the link between being born prematurely and academic performance.
“Many studies look at premature babies, but very few of them look at their educational outcomes into middle school in such a large population, Garfield said. “What’s special about this study is it speaks to the importance of administrative data sets and the ability to combine different data sets in ways that allow us to ask questions and get answers about how our children are doing in the long-run.”
“Most infants born at 23 to 24 weeks will demonstrate a high degree of cognitive functioning at the start of kindergarten and throughout school,” said leading author and director of the Institute for policy Research at Northwestern University, David Figlio.
The researchers found the findings reassuring and urge physicians to communicate with parents about the prospects of their premature newborn, as some preemies do brilliantly.
The researchers noted that the study analysis is strong, but it does not account for medical problems linked to premature birth. The reasons, such as extra school or family support or biological make-up, why those children performed well were not included in the study. However, most premature babies performed fairly well on standardized tests through the middle school years.
The study was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on June 12, 2017.