The impact of prematurity and maternal socioeconomic status and education level on achievement-test scores up to 8th grade

Nahed O. ElHassan, Shasha Bai, Neal Gibson, Greg Holland, James M. Robbins, Jeffrey R. Kaiser

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17 Scopus citations


Background The relative influence of prematurity vs. maternal social factors (socioeconomic status and education level) on academic performance has rarely been examined. Objective To examine the impact of prematurity and maternal social factors on academic performance from 3rd through 8th grade. Methods We conducted a retrospective cohort study of infants born in 1998 at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The study sample included 58 extremely low gestational age newborns (ELGANs, 23–<28 weeks), 171 preterm (28–<34 weeks), 228 late preterm (34–<37 weeks), and 967 term ((37–<42 weeks) infants. Neonatal and maternal variables were collected including maternal insurance status (proxy measure for socioeconomic status) and education level. The primary outcomes were literacy and mathematics achievement-test scores from 3rd through 8th grade. Linear mixed models were used to identify significant predictors of academic performance. All two-way interactions between grade level, gestational-age (GA) groups, and social factors were tested for statistical significance. Results Prematurity, social factors, gender, race, gravidity, and Apgar score at one minute were critical determinants of academic performance. Favorable social factors were associated with a significant increase in both literacy and mathematic scores, while prematurity was associated with a significant decrease in mathematic scores. Examination of GA categories and social factors interaction suggested that the impact of social factors on test scores was similar for all GA groups. Furthermore, the impact of social factors varied from grade to grade for literacy, while the influence of either GA groups or social factors was constant across grades for mathematics. For example, an ELGAN with favorable social factors had a predicted literacy score 104.1 (P <.001), 98.2 (P <.001), and 76.4 (P <.01) points higher than an otherwise similar disadvantaged term infant at grades 3, 5, and 8, respectively. The difference in their predicted mathematic scores was 33.4 points for all grades (P <.05). Conclusion While there were significant deficits in academic performance for ELGANs compared to PT, LPT, and term infants, the deficit could be offset by higher SES and better-educated mothers. These favorable social factors were critical to a child’s academic achievement. The role of socioeconomic factors should be incorporated in discussions on outcome with families of preterm infants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0198083
JournalPloS one
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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