Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

What to Watch Out for When Students Have Summer Birthdays

Relative age matters when assessing behavior
By Dr. Anupam B. Jena — July 12, 2023 1 min read
What's something teachers should know about assessing behavior?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

What’s something teachers should know about assessing behavior?

Teachers see students every day, and their opinion carries a lot of weight with parents—which I know from firsthand experience. When I was a kid, I didn’t always pay attention in class, and my grades showed it. My report cards came home with several C’s scattered among the A’s and B’s, along with comments from my teachers about my lack of focus.

After meetings with my teachers, my parents would talk to me about ways to avoid distraction. One topic that never came up: my July birthday, which meant I was one of the youngest kids in the class.

We often overlook factors such as when a child is born when assessing behavior. It’s not a natural thing to consider when you’re concerned about why a child is chatty in class, easily distracted, and has trouble focusing compared with their classmates. But in a study of nearly half a million American children, my colleagues and I found that the month a child is born has a potentially huge impact when assessing their behavior. Why? We found that young kids with summer birthdays are more likely than fall- or winter-born kids to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

In most parts of the United States, age cutoffs for a given grade start in September. Kids with summer birthdays are expected to behave the same way as September-born kids, even though they’re almost a year younger and, not surprisingly, less mature. Some of them will be diagnosed with ADHD because they’re not focusing as well as the other kids, even if all they need is more time to grow. The same problem has also been observed around the world.

What does this mean for teachers and parents? Teachers can note students’ relative age when assessing their school performance. A child who is more easily distracted may just be young for their grade, something a teacher can easily identify and incorporate into their assessment. For parents: If your child has a summer birthday and you’re wondering about an ADHD diagnosis, ask the doctor, “Could it be they just need a bit more time to catch up with their peers?” Working together, doctors, parents, and teachers can make better diagnoses and help all children thrive at school.

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being In Their Own Words These Students Found Mental Health Support in After-School Programs. See How
3 students discuss how after-school programs benefit their well-being.
6 min read
Vector illustration of a woman sitting indian style with her arms spread wide and a rainbow above her head.
Student Well-Being Cellphone Headaches in Middle Schools: Why Policies Aren't Enough
Middle schoolers' developmental stage makes them uniquely vulnerable to the negative aspects of cellphones. Policies alone won't help.
6 min read
A student holds a cell phone during class at Bel Air High School in Bel Air, Md., on Jan. 25, 2024.
A student holds a cellphone during class at Bel Air High School in Bel Air, Md., on Jan. 25, 2024.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Student Well-Being Teachers Want Parents to Step Up to Curb Cellphone Misuse. Are They Ready?
A program from the National PTA aims to partner with schools to give parents resources on teaching their children healthy tech habits.
5 min read
Elementary students standing in line against a brick wall using cellphones and not interacting.
Student Well-Being Schools Feel Less Equipped to Meet Students' Mental Health Needs Than a Few Years Ago
Less than half of public schools report that they can effectively meet students’ mental health needs.
4 min read
Image of a student with their head down on their arms, at a desk.
Olga Beliaeva/iStock/Getty