Academic redshirting for young children refers to the practice of postponing the entrance of age-eligible children into kindergarten in order to allow extra time for social, emotional, intellectual, or physical growth. In Illinois, a child 5 years old on or before September 1 of the kindergarten year may begin kindergarten. (By law, a child must begin school if he or she is 6 years old on or before September 1.) Parents often choose to delay the enrollment in kindergarten of an age-eligible child if the child has a birthday so close to the cut-off date that he or she is likely to be among the youngest in the class. These parents believe that older children are more successful in coping with the social, emotional, and academic demands of kindergarten than younger children.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that, nationally, during the 2006-2007 school year, 7% of children had parents who planned to delay their entrance into kindergarten. This statistic included a higher percentage of boys than girls and a lower percentage of children living in poor households compared with nonpoor households (O’Donnell, 2008). According to researcher M. Elizabeth Graue, studies suggest that “redshirting is a relatively low-incidence practice that clusters in certain communities. Although the average tends to be about 7%, it ranges from 0 to much higher in certain schools” (personal communication, February 24, 2009; also see Graue & DiPerna, 2000).
Research on the effects of redshirting on children has shown mixed results. It is difficult to establish a direct link between being redshirted and doing well or poorly in kindergarten and beyond. Some older studies related to redshirting suggested that redshirted children were likely to achieve at a comparable rate to age peers who entered on time. According to some of the older studies, social outcomes for oldest and youngest children in a class were similar; however, other research suggested that older children showed more behavior problems (Graue & DiPerna, 2000, pp. 512-513). One Wisconsin study in 2000 examined 8,000 students’ school records to discern patterns related to school entry age, promotion/retention, receipt of special services, and achievement in school. The authors reported that redshirted children in the younger half of their age cohort (that is, those with spring or summer birthdays) were more likely to receive special education services than peers who were typically promoted (Graue & DiPerna, 2000, p. 527). Another study of 116 kindergartners and first-graders in California found few entrance-age-related differences in self-reports of school adjustment, loneliness, perceptions of competence, or maternal and peer acceptance (Spitzer, Cupp, & Parke, 1995, p. 433).
An analysis of data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study regarding children’s achievement in reading and math found that redshirted children showed slightly higher reading knowledge and skills when tested at the end of first grade than did children who started kindergarten on time. In mathematics, however, redshirted children’s scores were somewhat behind those of children who had started kindergarten on time (Malone, West, Flanagan, & Park, 2006).
Another recent study, related to early or late school-age entry cutoff dates nationwide rather than to redshirting, suggests that students who are older than peers in their grade score higher on achievement tests and are less likely to repeat a grade or to be diagnosed with learning disabilities than younger students in the same class (Elder & Lubotsky, 2006). These findings may be misleading when applied to children who begin kindergarten earlier or later due to redshirting (Elder & Lubotsky 2006, p. 28).
Some writers have pointed out that an elementary-age child who starts school older than other children in his grade (unless he or she has a learning disability) may score higher than others in his grade on tests, but this does not prove that starting school later has improved his learning. Rather, it shows only that he is older than others in his grade taking the test at the same time, at a point in his life when a few months of difference in age can translate into significant differences in experience and cognitive skills (Deming & Dynarksi, 2008). Other findings based on national statistics suggest that when the age of school entry rises, so does the high school dropout rate (Deming & Dynarski, 2008, p. 2).
Some researchers have speculated that redshirting may also have short-term and long-term economic effects. Delaying school entry can cost a family an additional year of child care or preschool, or it can result in the loss of a parent’s income for an additional year if that parent stays at home with the child. In the long term, delaying kindergarten also delays the students’ completion of their education and entry into the workforce (Elder & Lubotsky, 2006).
Because the research is inconclusive about the effects of redshirting and Illinois children are not required to begin school the year they turn 5, parents are usually the ones who make the decision about whether to keep their child out of kindergarten for an extra year. The following are some points for parents to consider in making a decision (Katz, 2000, p. 2):
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