Objectives: To assess learning problems among kindergarten students with extremely preterm birth and to identify risk factors.
Design: Cohort study.
Setting: Children's hospital.
Participants: A cohort of 148 children born between January 1, 2001, and December 31, 2003, with extremely preterm birth, defined as less than 28 weeks' gestation or having a birth weight of less than 1000 g, and 111 classmate control individuals born at term with normal birth weight.
Interventions: The children were enrolled in the study during their first year in kindergarten and were assessed on measures of learning progress.
Main outcome measures: Achievement testing, teacher ratings of learning progress, and individual educational assistance.
Results: Children with extremely preterm birth had lower mean standard scores than controls on achievement tests of spelling (8.52; 95% confidence interval, 4.58-12.46) and applied mathematics (11.02; 6.76-15.28). They had higher rates of substandard learning progress by teacher report in written language (odds ratio, 4.23; 95% CI, 2.32-7.73) and mathematics (7.08; 2.79-17.95). Group differences in mathematics achievement and in teacher ratings of learning progress were statistically significant even in children without neurosensory deficits or low global cognitive ability. Neonatal risk factors, early childhood neurodevelopmental impairment, and socioeconomic status predicted learning problems in children with extremely preterm birth; however, many children with problems were not enrolled in a special education program.
Conclusions: Learning problems in children with extremely preterm birth are evident in kindergarten and are associated with neonatal and early childhood risk factors. Our findings support efforts to provide more extensive monitoring and interventions before and during the first year of school.