A new study of elementary and middle school students has found that those who are the youngest in their grades score worse on standardized tests than their older classmates and are more likely to be prescribed stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.It gets worse.
The findings suggest that in a given grade, students born at the end of the calendar year may be at a distinct disadvantage. Those perceived as having academic or behavioral problems may in fact be lagging simply as a result of being forced to compete with classmates almost a full year older than them. For a child as young as 5, a span of one year can account for 20 percent of the child’s age, potentially making him or her appear significantly less mature than older classmates.
The new study found that the lower the grade, the greater the disparity. For children in the fourth grade, the researchers found that those in the youngest third of their class had an 80 to 90 percent increased risk of scoring in the lowest decile on standardized tests. They were also 50 percent more likely than the oldest third of their classmates to be prescribed stimulants for A.D.H.D. The differences diminished somewhat over time, the researchers found, but continued at least through the seventh grade.
The findings dovetail with research carried out by two economists, Kelly Bedard and Elizabeth Dhuey. In looking at fourth graders around the world, the two found that the oldest children scored up to 12 percentile points higher than the youngest children. Their work, which was described in the best-selling 2008 book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell, has shown a similar pattern among college students.Sheesh.
“At four-year colleges in the United States,” Mr. Gladwell wrote, “students belonging to the relatively youngest group in their class are underrepresented by about 11.6 percent. That initial difference in maturity doesn’t go away with time. It persists. And for thousands of students, that initial disadvantage is the difference between going to college — and having a real shot at the middle class — and not.”
Younger Students More Likely to Get A.D.H.D. Drugs
By ANAHAD O'CONNOR
NOVEMBER 20, 2012, 11:25 AM
C. was one of the youngest kids in his class, and at some point it dawned on me that his friends were also the youngest kids in his class -- and that the older kids seemed to be having more fun. Probably getting better grades, too.
But when I pointed out the connection, nobody believed me. The reigning view was that age of birth affected sports, but not academics, and not friendship. Academics and friendship were somehow completely and totally unrelated to biology, I guess.
Obviously I shouldn't have stopped reading Malcolm Gladwell when I did. If I'd read The Outliers, I could have at least won an argument or two.