Background Earlier studies of young people with Down's syndrome have investigated a relatively limited range of variables which may influence their academic attainment. The relative strength of such influences and how they may vary during the school career, has also been under-researched.
Aims The aim of the paper is to identify the contemporary and antecedent predictors of the level of academic attainment achieved by a representative sample of young people with Down's syndrome.
Sample The paper reports data from three studies of 71 young people with Down's syndrome and their families. Mean IQ at the time of the first study (t1) was 40.4. Mean chronological age was 9 years at t1, 14 at t2, and 21 at t3, when all the young people had left school.
Methods The outcome measure was the 58-item Academic Attainments Index (AAI), comprising three sub-scales covering reading, writing and numeracy. Predictors of the outcome were derived from questionnaires and interviews from tutors, mothers and fathers. A path analysis approach was used to investigate the pattern of predictors of the outcome over the three studies.
Results Factors predicting greater progress in this measure between t2 and t3 were lower chronological age and attendance at mainstream school. Progress from t1 to t2 was also associated with attendance at mainstream school, as well as with higher t1 mental age, mother's practical coping style and higher child attentiveness. Background factors predicting higher t1 AAI scores were higher mental age, attendance at mainstream school and father's internal locus of control. The path analysis model predicted 48% of the variance in t3 outcome scores. Severity of intellectual impairment was by far the most significant predictor.
Conclusion Limitations to the study include evidence of attrition bias towards more able children, and the need to obtain the t3 outcome measure from tutors for some young people and parents for others. Parents may have over-estimated abilities. Results are broadly in agreement with other studies, and confirm the pattern reported earlier with this group. Mainstream school attendance had a modest beneficial effect on AAI scores throughout the school career of the children, independently of level of intellectual disability. Identification of predictors of attainment levels and of improvement over time may help parents, teachers and other professionals involved with families of children and young people with Down's syndrome optimise the attainment of such skills.