Children born very low birthweight (VLBW, <=1500 g) have historically had lower average school achievement than their normal birthweight peers. However, perinatal care and survival have changed dramatically since prior cohorts accrued, prompting reassessment. Surfactant therapy became generally available 8/1/1990, and the use of ante- and postnatal steroids increased substantially around this time. Standardized test scores and teacher ratings in math, reading, science, and social studies were obtained at age 10 for a cohort of children admitted to six regional NICUs in Wisconsin and Iowa, 8/1/1988 - 6/30/1991. We compared achievement between the VLBW cohort and controls from the same school districts. Among VLBW children, we determined neonatal and early childhood factors associated with achievement on standardized tests (ordinal logistic regression) and teacher ratings (linear regression) and evaluated whether achievement differed by birth year. Compared to population controls, VLBW children's greatest deficits occurred in mathematics. Scores on the standardized math exam and teacher ratings of overall achievement were positively associated with birthweight, social function measured at age five, and socioeconomic status. VLBW children born in the post-surfactant era (after 8/1/1990) had lower achievement on the standardized math exam than children born during the pre-surfactant era of the prior two years. Lower achievement in the post-surfactant era may be due to greater survival among less healthy neonates or increased exposure to postnatal steroids. VLBW children more likely to struggle academically could be identified by early childhood measures, allowing for targeted interventions to mitigate their difficulties.
1Department of Population Health Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison
2Department of Population Health Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Department of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Received April 2006; accepted August 2006.
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