Even a Little Early is Too Early

Premature babies more likely to fail standardized tests even if late preterm

(RxWiki News) Extremely premature birth is linked to difficulties with thinking and motor skills. But researchers are still learning what it means even if children are born only a few weeks early.

A recent study looked at how well children did on standardized tests and compared that information to their birth records.

These researchers found that children born just a few weeks premature were more likely to fail all sections of the standardized tests.

This finding means that even a couple of weeks of prematurity might influence a child's brain development.

"Attend all prenatal appointments."

The study, led by Bryan L. Williams, PhD, of the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, investigated whether children's performance in first grade is linked in any way to being born prematurely.

The researchers looked at the standardized test results of first graders in Georgia public schools from 2005 to 2009. These results were compared to the birth records of all children born in Georgia from 1998 to 2003.

The researchers looked at the characteristics and demographics of the children to determine what factors were most linked with poor performances on three different parts of the standardized tests. These sections were math, reading and English/language arts.

The researchers found that the level of a child's mother's education was the strongest factor linked to a child's failure on all three test sections.

Two other strong risk factors for poor performance were the race/ethnicity of the child and the age of the child's mother when the child was born. The ages of the mothers ranged from 11 to 53. These factors are most likely due to the child's socioeconomic environment, the researchers wrote.

However, these risk factors had an even bigger effect if the child had been born slightly prematurely, even by a couple of weeks. A baby is considered premature if born before the 37th week of pregnancy.

Then the researchers analyzed what the risk of failing the test sections was among children born prematurely after making adjustments to account for other characteristics of the children and their mothers.

The researchers found that being born prematurely was slightly linked to failing each section of the test. This was true even of children born at 34 to 36 weeks of pregnancy.

Children born just a few weeks early were 17 percent more likely to fail the math section, 13 percent more likely to fail the reading section and 17 percent more likely to fail the English/language arts section.  

"Preterm birth and low maternal education increase children’s risk of failure of first grade standardized tests," the researchers concluded.

The study was published March 25 in the journal of Pediatrics. The research did not receive external funding, and the authors reported no conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
March 24, 2013