Parents of premature babies often worry how their child will do academically later in life. A new study may ease their minds.
Researchers followed more than 1.3 million premature babies born in Florida and found that two-thirds of those born at only 23 or 24 weeks were ready for kindergarten on time, and almost 2 percent of those infants later achieved gifted status in school.
Though extremely premature babies often scored low on standardized tests, preterm infants born 25 weeks or later performed only slightly lower than full-term infants. For babies born after 28 weeks, the differences in test scores were negligible.
"We know a lot about the medical and clinical outcomes [of premature babies] and we know some about short-term educational outcomes, but what we didn't know is how the babies do once they get further out into elementary school and middle school," the study's first author Dr. Craig Garfield, associate professor of pediatrics and of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told CBS News.
The babies were born in Florida from 1992 to 2002 with gestational ages of 23 to 41 weeks who later entered Florida public schools between 1995 and 2012. The scope of the study included a diverse group of children with varied backgrounds and economic status.
The study did not include additional research possibly connected to the children’s development such as medical issues related to premature birth, or information about factors that may have helped these children perform well in school, such as their biological makeup or if they got extra support from family or school programs.
"This is a really large group of children," Garfield said. "A lot of studies are done in a select group, but the population in this study is really all the babies that were born and lived up to one year in Florida and we were able to follow them through the education system to eighth grade."
Senior author David Figlio, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, acknowledges concerns that very premature infants (those born between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy) tend to score well below their full-term peers on standardized tests. However, he said he believes "the glass is more than half-full."
"Most infants born at 23 to 24 weeks still demonstrate a high degree of cognitive functioning at the start of kindergarten and throughout school," he said in a statement.
The study is good news for parents already consumed with uncertainty about the future of their premature infant – something they need during a very difficult time.
Story source: Ashley Welch, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/premature-babies-preemies-catch-up-in-school-study/