Is "when to send kids to school" a scientific decision?


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Growing up with the same class for 12 years, everyone knew those students who were especially younger or older than all the rest.  I never thought that a student's age relative to their classmates could impact their social and behavioral health.  In a recent article from the New York Times Well Blog, titled "Younger Students More Likely to Get A.D.H.D. Drugs" the idea has been proposed that "in a given grade, students born at the end of the calendar year might be at a distinct disadvantage" and that "the lower the grade, the greater the disparity."  

The study, conducted by Journal Pediatrics, researched students in Iceland.  The researchers, led by Dr. Zoega, followed "10,000 students born in Iceland in the mid-1990s, following them from fourth grade through seventh grade, or ages 9 to 12."  The students were divided and evaluated based on the month of the year in which they were born.  

There were several major takeaways from the study:

1.) For children in the fourth grade, "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" and "were also 50 percent more likely than the oldest third of their classmates to be prescribed stimulants for A.D.H.D."
2.) Although the youngest of children in some of the earlier grades were more likely to experience a disadvantage, there is still traceable evidence that the youngest of the seventh graders were still experiencing some disadvantages compared to their classmates.
3.) Gender played a small role: "girls scored higher than boys on tests, and had lower rates of stimulant prescriptions" although there was "still an age effect among girls for both academic performance and the use of A.D.H.D. medication."

Overall, this article had a very compelling title with little evidence to back its claim.  The Mayo Clinic listed several potential causes of A.D.H.D. including altered brain function and anatomy, heredity, maternal smoking, drug use, and exposure to toxins, childhood exposure to environmental toxins, and food additives.  None of these potential causes related in the least to a student's age relative to their classmates.  As for the test scores, I have yet to find any other compelling studies that suggest the same.  So what could be the explanation for this correlation?  Well, it could be chance or some other element causing a correlation between the two.  Perhaps students who are the youngest of their class might always be treated differently and feel that they are less likely to succeed.  This type of mindset could potentially be affecting their performance as they grow through these middle-school years.  

The leader of the research, Dr. Zoega, advises against jumping to conclusions based on the data reported in the study.  Instead, she suggests that "parents and educators should consider a child's age relative to his or her classmates when looking at poor grades and at any behavioral problems."  That being said, the title of the article is extremely misleading.  In my opinion, if the researchers do not see age as a cause for A.D.H.D., but as merely a potential correlation, they should not have specifically mentioned this disorder, especially considering how highly political this issue has become.

3 Comments

I highly disagree with the findings of this study. I was the youngest person by a week in my high school class of around 150 kids. I was always at the top of the class and graduated in the top ten percent. I didn't have any developmental or learning issues throughout my grade school or high school years and I didn't have any problems making friends. If I had started school a year later, I think that I would have felt left behind and unchallenged. While I don't think that this is the case for every student who is at the younger end of their class, I don't think it has anything to do with ADHD. However, I can see how the kids at the older end of the class could feel unchallenged and like they are too mature for the other people in their class. This, in my opinion, could lead to ADHD. I would agree with you by saying that there could be a correlation between the age of students compared to their peers and ADHD. Most patients diagnosed with ADHD are usually diagnosed before they even start school, according to this article: http://www.comeunity.com/disability/adhd/agediagnosisadhd.html. Of course, ADHD can occur as the brain develops more and is also diagnosed once kids start school as well. Maybe I am part of the 5% due to chance that has always been the youngest in classes and does not suffer from ADHD, but I am inclined to conclude that ADHD and the age you are compared to your peers is probably not connected.

I have never actually put much thought into this idea. I have a birthday in March, so I'm not really older or younger for my grade. However, I am the youngest person in my family, and I think that this has an effect in a different way. Not necessarily when it comes to problems such as ADHD, however I think that it does have effect when it comes to personality. I recently learned in my personality psychology course that the birth order of a family can oftentimes very accurately predict how one's personality is determined. I, for instance, am the youngest of three siblings and the key characteristics such as more sociable and less scientific were dead on. So, to sum up, I think that it has less to do with where you are in the age differences in your school class and more to do with where you are in your family age level. This article does a great time explaining why this is and some other key differences. I also plan on writing a blog on the subject which will go into more depth.

I disagree with this study as well because I have known students smarter than others who are also younger. There are always those with a late birthday, but this does not change the fact that they are being socialized with peers the same age. In fact, these older peers might even have an influence on the younger ones causing them to mature at a faster pace. However, I would only say this is true at a very young age. At our age, it makes no difference because at this point we have already become the people we will be. In college, we have classes with people of all ages, and this does not affect our performance.
An interesting factor is that around the world, children start school at different ages. America actually is one of the countries that start the youngest, around 5 years old according to BBC News. In countries in Scandinavia, children don’t start school until the age of 7. The article details how the Cambridge Primary Review concluded starting school earlier can have better long term effects. I can see why this is true. Primary school is not exactly rocket science. It is more about learning how to make friends, listen to authority, clean up after yourself, and learn a sense of responsibility. If kids begin to develop these habits at an earlier age, it will be easier for them to continue these habits as they grow older.
However, the article also mentions that this causes the children be socialized into spending less time with their family. Could this be true?! In other countries, it is normal for children to live with their parents until they are adults, until they even get married. In America, we often hear about how parents make their kids leave the house once they are 18. From a young age, children are often left at after school programs or left with caretakers while the parents work till late at night. This allows little time for the parents and children to bond. So with children in America always being put into the care of others from a young age, with babysitters or at school, it is not surprising that children “grow up so fast.” Could it be that we are sent to school from a younger age because that is how our country thinks children can grow up faster and more successfully?
A third variable that can be applied to every country is the income gap. The article mentions that families with wealth can often send their children to better school. When children start school at such an early age, the “playing field” is level. “But this "attainment gap", instead of closing gets wider at each stage up to the age of 16. As every year passes in school, the results of the richest and poorest grow further apart.”
There are so many factors to one’s intelligence, not just their age. There are factors such as lifestyle, tutoring, parents, dedication, time spent at school, school attended, work ethics, etc. I don’t think age is a big factor in whether someone gets ahead in school or not.

Here is an interesting link by The World Bank showing the ages that children start school around the world. I wonder if there is a correlation between the ages and intelligence levels around the world.

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