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WFM Parent coffee led by Ms. Karen on February 20, 2018 focused on the correlation between student age and performance. The coffee started off by defining a few key terms for the discussion such as Relative Age, the difference in chronological age among children born in the same grouping, and the Relative Age Effect, the observable effect resulting from a relationship between chronological age and an eligibility cut off date used for cohort selection. The talk focused on examining how relative age of a child corresponds their performance when compared to others in the same cohort.
We reviewed live birth distribution data in the US and in the Europe and found them to be uniform across all the months. Thus, it was surprising to see that distribution of youth qualifying for EU Elite Youth Soccer teams was skewed towards players born in the earlier months of the year when the cutoff date of January 1 was used. Similar pattern can be observed in the players for other sports such as FIFA world cup players, professional hockey players, and even junior sports team. It was evidenced that players who were on the older end of the cohort tend to mature faster, be bigger in size, and have access to better training. Thus, the younger players tended to have the falloff effect.
Similar differences can be easily seen in schools as they tend to have a date cutoff of August 1 or September 1. Noticeable differences can be observed in how the kids progress compared to their peers in areas such as Kindergarten math, reading, etc. The effect does tend to level off around 5th grade but still exists to a smaller degree. Often impact of this can be observed in university graduations.
How does this impact the younger kids? Without accounting for the relative age bias, younger kids are more likely to be held back and way more likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability. Older children tend to show task persistence and are less hyperactive. As a result, the older aged children have reduced diagnosis of ADD, etc. The younger children have lower adaptability and greater irritability and likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability.
What is the solution? There is no real solution. Delaying the child by a year, varying the start dates, etc. do not address the issue. Bias can still be observed. The important thing is for parents and teachers to both be aware of this phenomenon and take it into account when evaluating children. The younger child just needs patience and they will perform at the same level as their peers. Adults just need to be patient and nurturing to ensure their continued love of learning.