For pediatricians working with children born prematurely, it can be difficult to offer guidance to parents on how those children will perform academically given a high probability of medical and neurodevelopmental morbidities.
A new report, however, offers hope for long-term success in school, revealing that children born prematurely aren’t as far behind children born at full term as previously thought.
The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, followed more than 1 million children as they progressed through their school years, tracking their kindergarten readiness and standardized test scores.
Craig F Garfield, MD, MAPP, associate professor of Pediatrics and Medical Social Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois, director of research in the division of hospital-based medicine and co-director of Pediatric Hospital Medicine Fellowship at the Anne and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and lead author of the report, says the findings are a bright spot for parents of premature infants.
“For some families with really premature babies, these babies still do well in school and even can go on to be gifted. This is true for the youngest, most premature babies (23 to 24 weeks) and is even better for babies born at later ages, like 25 weeks and up,” Garfield says. “By the time a baby reaches 28 weeks, the difference between their Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores in third to eighth grade and those of the full-term babies is negligible.”
Preterm births are often associated with a number of risks, from medical morbidities and mortality to neurodevelopmental deficits. It can be difficult for pediatricians, however, to offer parents specific answers as to how their children will perform scholastically as they grow. In this study, researchers aimed to track educational performance based on gestational age at birth, and what they found may offer parents of preterm infants new hope about their long-term development.
The study investigated Florida infants born between 23 and 41 weeks’ gestation. The cohort was tracked from 1992 to 2002 as they progressed through Florida public schools. Researchers evaluated more than 1 million infants and found that 65% of children who were born at 23 to 24 weeks’ gestation were designated as kindergarten ready at the time school started, compared with 85.3% of children born at full term.