DOES ‘REDSHIRTING’ REALLY HELP KIDS EXCEL?
A Personal Note:
Many of my patients and friends make the decision to slightly delay their child’s entry into kindergarten. Many believe their child needs the extra time to grow and mature before beginning the rigors of formal education.
“Redshirting” – a name once reserved for college athletes delaying eligibility – is now the term also applied to kindergarten students who delay their school start until closer to their sixth birthday.
Every child’s needs and readiness level is unique, and there is no exact formula for determining school readiness. What are the factors to consider when making the decision on whether to “redshirt” YOUR child?
WHAT ARE THE COMMON REASONS FOR “REDSHIRTING”?
Redshirting is the decision to delay a child’s kindergarten entry. In recent years, a growing number of parents are choosing to delay their child’s start to school so that he or she will be older upon entry.
There can be many reasons that a parent might find this tactic to be beneficial or even necessary. Some parents do not believe that their child is emotionally ready to leave home. Another common reason for delayed scholastic entry is concern that a child is not socially or academically adept at the time they would regularly start kindergarten. Occasionally, parents may even be driven by the belief that delaying schooling gives a child a competitive advantage in sports. Another school of thought is that redshirting is beneficial because it delays the admission age to college, giving the child the advantage of maturity and cognitive ability at that crucial point in their future.
For these and other reasons, redshirting has always been a practice, but what has been proven about the impact it has on the lives of our children? Are there proven advantages to the practice? What are the possible negative effects or risks redshirting could pose to children’s development?
IS THERE PROOF THAT REDSHIRTING IS BENEFICIAL FOR KIDS?
In the past decade, a significant number of studies have examined the repercussions of redshirting. Researchers have looked specifically at the immediate effects and those that occur within the early elementary years. The National Center for Education Statistics released a report in the spring of 2011 asserting that the test scores for kindergarten students were higher for delayed-entry kindergartners and on-time kindergartners than for repeating kindergarten students. Some research found that redshirting may also help children with social skills and increased popularity in the classroom.
Research suggests that the positive effects of redshirting a child are most apparent in the first three years of elementary school. A particular study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2011 found that starting kindergarten one year later substantially reduces the probability of repeating the third grade, and meaningfully increases tenth-grade math and reading scores.
According to the same National Bureau of Economic Research study, the area most strongly affected in the long-term is a child’s mental health. The study discovered that “boys who start older are less likely to have poor mental health at age 18. Additionally, starting school older has a negative effect on the probability of teenage pregnancy.” The National Bureau reports that effects are highest for low-income students and males.
WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF DELAYED SCHOOL ENTRY?
While there are stated positive effects, there are also those who have found disadvantages to the practice of redshirting. Some accounts have shown that older children may feel alienated from their younger classmates, either because of the assumption that they were “held back” because of academic weakness or because there is resentment between students due to the older children having an unfair advantage over their younger counterparts both in physical and mental abilities.
Furthermore, while studies have found many positive effects in a child’s early years in education, these gains seem to level off around third grade. In fact, by third grade, academic achievement is often equal for students who were not redshirted prior to their kindergarten year. It is believed that by third grade, younger students have caught up to their peers in social, emotional, and academic growth.
Additional research confirms that redshirting may have pointedly negative effects on the test scores of students with identified disabilities in kindergarten compared to their regular-entry classmates. Again, though, most factors in this group of affected students becomes balanced out by the third grade.
Redshirting poses challenges not only to children but to teachers and parents. Not surprisingly, teachers tend to be most impacted by the practice. They must deal with children of ages ranging between four-and-a-half and six-and-a -half. This is a large developmental gap when trying to get through the state standard curriculum, creating a need for greater differentiation for reading and math support for students.
Beyond the curriculum itself, teachers must accommodate for differentiated learning styles and speeds with these varied student populations. A broadly-populated classroom also requires teachers to understand the needs and talents of both younger and older students. They face the difficulty of managing a wider range of behaviors across the group. There is also the possible risk that some students who have been redshirted can develop a persona that they are always bigger, better, and have the upper hand, which might be challenging to a teacher trying to keep peace and fairness in the classroom.
Ultimately, the decision to redshirt kindergarteners gets mixed reviews. Educators, administrators, and policymakers are keenly aware of the influence of redshirting on performance. Teachers need the flexibility and administrative support to provide students with individualized educational support, regardless of their initial enrollment age.
Although current research varies, common sense holds that the decision to redshirt a child should be left up to the child’s parents after much consideration of the child’s individual needs and readiness level, rather than as a part of a statistic or trend.