kitchen table math, the sequel: another gap that doesn't close

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

another gap that doesn't close

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.

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.
It gets worse.
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.

“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
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.


ms-teacher said...

My birthday is in October. My parents specifically chose to keep me out of school until I was 5 almost 6. I excelled & loved school. Not so much my older brother & younger sister, both of whom are summer babies, and thus started school a few months after turning five.

This year, I'm teaching 3rd grade. I have a student who is a full year younger than most of his classmates. In looking at his behavior and academics, he lags in maturity with his classmates.

lgm said...

Did Mr. Gladwell correct for red-shirting, and the various K entry ages around the country? How about the 'teacher's recommendation' that keeps younger children, particularly boys, from being recommended for the honors program, due to their less than sedentary behavior - which is the tiebreaker between two students of equal grades/test scores?

As a parent of a young for grade child, I don't see an academic issue other than the behavior preventing placement in honors for some boys. My child's elementary school grade-skipped almost everyone that was fall birthday (old for grade) and bright/gifted the first year of nclb-low-expectations. These children lead their new cohorts, which is to be expected as there are few AP and honors classes. My son, for ex. ran into the problem of S.U.N.Y. refusing to give him credit for his math class because of his grade level. His grade-skipped friend will take the class next year, in the 11th grade, at the same age my son is now, and will be allowed to get credit. I suspect though, that in other districts that group departed for private school or homeschool or did early college. The academic issue I do see with the youngest who remain and are struggling is due to home life. They cannot compete with those that have educated parents or the ability to provide enrichment, afterschooling and tutoring.

Froggie said...

This is ridiculous. Someone always has to be the youngest. Right now, we have an epidemic of red shirting, which meant that my kids, smack in the middle of the "official" age for kindergarten (spring birthdays), are instead the youngest. Pretty soon, people are going to be holding their kids back TWO years.

Perhaps the real problem is the assembly line nature of mainstream education. Perhaps an approach more like Montessori, with kids in mixed age classrooms, and with a focus on individual needs, would be better.

Anonymous said...

My birthday is also in October. When I started school, the cutoff in my district was November 1, so I started first grade in September at age 5 and turned 6 midway through the first half of the year and therefore started out my schooling as one of the youngest.

The summer after my first grade year, we moved to a different state where the cutoff was September 1. My new principal tried to make me repeat first grade, until my parents convinced him to test me. After I read to him from books up to sixth grade level (that's as high as they had), he agreed that I could attend as a second grader.

On the SRAs in 4th, 6th, and 8th grades, I tested at the 99th percentile. After eight years in a suburban public school district, I tested (SSAT) into a private high school, from which I graduated as salutatorian. The valedictorian was a year and three days older than me.

I took the SAT twice with no prep and got over 1500 both times (800 math). I won multiple spelling bees and math contests against older children.

Generalities are not always true.

Some youngest children will thrive on the competition and the secret knowledge that they're a year ahead of the other kids. Some will falter.

SATVerbalTutor. said...

Interesting. I guess I'm another outlier. My birthday is at the beginning of September, but the cutoff for my district was 12/1, which meant that I was always one of the youngest but never the youngest. In elementary school, I did tend to get bored academically (which is interesting since at least half of my elementary school class went to top-10 colleges), but I was miserable socially. Part of that was just "fit": the kids tended to be fairly preppy and sports-oriented, and I was into theater and books, but I also do wonder if the age thing played a role... When I got to high school, my best friend was a year behind me but also at the young end of *her* class...

momof4 said...

My kids graduated from HS between 1992 and 2003 and were all among the youngest in their classes. The two January birthday boys both went ahead (Jan 1 cutoff date) and the other two had very late birthdays. When my older two started, some birthday kids (mostly boys) were red-shirted, so my boys were essentially a year younger than many of their classmates. By the time my younger kids (boy & girl) started, essentially all fall birthday boys were red-shirted (and many summer birthdays) and so were many of the girls, so my kids were likely to be almost two years younger than the oldest kids in their classes. For neither pair of my kids was being the youngest a problem, academically, socially or athletically. It certainly helped that they were all known elite athletes and were all socially adept. Because of the age gap between them and their older siblings, the younger pair were accustomed to dealing with older kids and I think that holding them back would have created large problems. Sometimes bucking the trend does work. The schools in question were suburban DC.

kcab said...

I've paid attention to these findings because my younger child is definitely younger than most of his classmates. He was younger than almost all the boys *before* he was grade-skipped. In the class where he's subject-accelerated he is 3-4 years younger than most of the kids. But his age hasn't ever led to concerns about ADHD or achievement or maturity. I'm not sure about fun.

I wonder if the studies have controlled for things like SES, though it seems obvious that they'd have to do so. Prior to my son being accelerated (back when I actually knew the birthday for everyone in the class :) ), I noticed that almost all of the other kids with birthdays around his or later came from relatively poor families. I'm assuming that there was a desire to get kids into school earlier in those families so that both parents could work more without having to pay for day care. So, it wasn't just that they were younger, some of them had also had less exposure to language, lived in less secure circumstances, etc etc.

ChemProf said...

I also wonder about SES issues on this one -- my mother's low SES kindergartners are almost never redshirted, because of that exact issue. If they aren't in kindergarten, then the families have to pay for daycare. Often the families are more receptive to having their child repeat kindergarten than starting late.