Academic Performance in Primary School Children With Common Emotional and Behavioral Problems

Lisa Mundy, Louise Canterford, Dawn Tucker, Jordana Bayer, Helen Romaniuk, Susan Sawyer, Petra Lietz, Gerry Redmond, Jenny Proimos, Nicholas Allen, George Patton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Many emotional and behavioral problems first emerge in primary school and are the forerunners of mental health problems occurring in adolescence. However, the extent that these problems may be associated with academic failure has been explored less. We aimed to quantify the association between emotional and behavioral problems with academic performance. METHODS: A stratified random sample of 8- to 9-year-olds (N = 1239) were recruited from schools in Australia. Data linkage was performed with a national assessment of academic performance to assess reading and numeracy. Parent report assessed emotional and behavioral problems with students dichotomized into “borderline/abnormal” and “normal” categories. RESULTS: One in 5 grade 3 students fell in the “borderline/abnormal” category. Boys with total difficulties (β = -47.8, 95% CI: -62.8 to -32.8), conduct problems, and peer problems scored lower on reading. Numeracy scores were lower in boys with total difficulties (β = -37.7, 95% CI: -53.9 to -21.5) and emotional symptoms. Children with hyperactivity/inattention scored lower in numeracy. Girls with peer problems scored lower in numeracy. CONCLUSIONS: Boys with emotional and behavioral problems in mid-primary school were 12 months behind their peers. Children with emotional and behavioral problems are at high risk for academic failure, and this risk is evident in mid-primary school.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)593-601
Number of pages9
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a NHMRC project grant (#1010018). MCRI research is supported by the Victorian Government's Operational Infrastructure Program. L.M. receives funding from the Invergowrie Foundation. G.P. is supported by a Senior Principal Research Fellowship from NHMRC. L.C. and H.R. are the statistical experts for this research and take responsibility for accuracy of the data analysis. L.M. and G.P. have full access to all the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data. We thank all of the families and schools who have participated in this study. We thank all staff involved in data collection and processing at MCRI. The authors report no financial interests or potential conflicts of interest.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, American School Health Association

Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • academic performance
  • behavior problems
  • emotional problems
  • public health


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