Investigation of Strategies to Reduce the Impact of the Relative Age Effect in Kindergarten

  • End date
    Dec 31, 2025
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    Florida International University
Updated on 13 June 2022


There is now clear evidence that children entering kindergarten, that are relatively young for the grade (e.g., born in the months immediately preceding the school entry cut-off) are at significantly more risk for receiving an ADHD diagnosis and being prescribed stimulant medication. These risks appear to be related solely to age of entry when other explanatory variables are controlled. This situation, termed the "Relative Age Effect"has potentially serious consequences for kindergarten children (e.g., greater likelihood of being prescribed psychoactive medication to control behavior).

The present proposal aims to develop a teacher intervention to attenuate the impact of the relative age effect on young kindergarteners with elevated ADHD symptoms, and test the correspondence between the hypothesized mechanisms and treatment outcomes related to ADHD (e.g., symptoms, impairment). Following intervention development and refinement, 60 children entering kindergarten in the fall, and young for the grade, will be randomly assigned to (1) Kindergarten as Usual (KAU); (2) a Relative Age Effect prevention intervention administered immediately; or (3) a Relative Age Effect prevention intervention administered mid-year. In the intervention groups, teachers will be introduced to the relative age effect, receive information on how to anchor behavioral ratings in developmental norms, and implement a positive behavioral support to support growth in the child across the kindergarten school year.

Primary aims will be to demonstrate the feasibility and acceptability of the intervention approach as well as the ability of the team to retain young children in a longitudinal trial. Further, the hypothesized mechanisms (e.g., improved neurocognitive functioning; improved teacher use of positive behavioral supports) will be measured and correspondence to hypothesized outcomes (e.g., reduced ADHD symptoms and impairment) will be evaluated. Anticipated benefits include attenuation of any negative effects for children who receive intervention, and risks include breach of confidentiality and worsening of symptoms initially if an intervention is instituted. The knowledge to be gained is important as it could reduce untoward outcomes for the relatively youngest children in the grade.


The entry to kindergarten is one of the most memorable and important milestones in a child's school career. Positive and quality kindergarten experiences have been associated with meaningful outcomes sustained into adulthood including greater rates of college attendance/higher earnings. Kindergarten entry is one of the first educational transitions made by a family, and it may cause stress and present new challenges for children and families. Given the increased demands that are associated with school entry and the concerns parents may have about this developmental milestone, there are numerous popular press and policy recommendations (e.g., National Association for the Education of Young Children), as well as empirical papers, that weigh in on the appropriate age to start kindergarten.

The transition to kindergarten is of particular concern for parents of children with ADHD, especially those relatively young for the grade. There is converging evidence suggesting that children who are young for their kindergarten class (e.g., they have a birthdate that falls within the months immediately preceding the cut-off date, typically August through November) are at increased risk for a range of negative educational outcomes including lower academic achievement, grade retention, social impairments, and ADHD diagnosis . These risks appear to be related to age of entry when other explanatory variables are controlled. Thus, these studies suggest that the robust evidence that children closest to an arbitrary cut-off date are disproportionally at-risk for negative social, behavioral, and educational outcomes is solely a consequence of educational policy - a phenomenon called the Relative Age Effect (RAE). Together, the consequence of these risks are 1.5x increased ADHD diagnostic rates and increased ADHD treatment with psychoactive medication for children relatively younger for their kindergarten grade .

There are prominent, candidate mechanisms that may explain the differential risk for children with ADHD who are also young for the grade. First, if a teacher is basing behavioral expectations for children in the classroom based on the relatively older children in the class, children who are relatively younger and have behaviors that are attributed to having considerable delays, even in situations where the child is acting in a manner consistent with their chronological age. Over time, if teachers are issuing frequent commands/reprimands, a coercive process may develop. Second, given expected variability in neurocognitive processing at this age level, inappropriate demands may fail to facilitate, and potentially even slow, the development of executive functions. The present proposal aims to reduce functional impairments and ADHD symptom levels by investigating whether evidence-based school treatment for ADHD (e.g., positive behavior supports) coupled with teacher training on the RAE results in improved school functioning for children with elevated ADHD symptoms prior to the kindergarten year. Further, the potential mechanism for the impairment experienced by children with ADHD will be explored, by investigating whether the impairments are due to characteristics of the child (e.g., deficits in neurocognitive development), the classroom (e.g., teacher classroom management strategies), or both.

Condition Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Treatment School as Usual, Relative Age Effect Intervention
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT05142826
SponsorFlorida International University
Last Modified on13 June 2022


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

enrolling in Kindergarten
has a date of birth 4 months prior to the respective state cut-off for school entry
does not have an Individualized Education program for behavioral concerns
has not been retained in school or "red-shirted" by parents

Exclusion Criteria

outside of the targeted birthdate range
diagnosed with autism, psychosis, or disruptive mood dysregulation disorder
taking psychoactive medication for mood, behavior, or inattention
in a classroom with an already enrolled study participant
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