Redshirting: Good Or Bad? New Research Adds To The Debate

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The phenomenon of “redshirting” is one of great interest, and some controversy, among parents of children starting school. The questions it raises boil down to this: Is it better to send a child into kindergarten as one of the younger students in the class, or is it better to hold a child back so that he or she is among the oldest?

Experts have come up with varied answers. For example, in an article in The New York Times, “Delay Kindergarten at Your Child’s Peril,” researchers Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt argue that the youngest children in kindergarten benefit “from the increased challenges of a demanding environment”—that is, school. “Learning is maximized not by getting all the answers right, but by making errors and correcting them quickly,” they note. “In this respect, children benefit from being close to the limits of their ability.”

On the other hand, Elizabeth Dhuey, an economist at the University of Toronto at Scarborough, “has published a number of studies suggesting that the older kids are in a class, the better they fare academically, the more leadership roles they have in high school, and the more likely they are to attend elite universities,” reports journalist Melinda Wenner Moyer in a well-researched piece on Slate.

Here’s the latest bit of research to digest, as reported by Peggy McGlone in The Star-Ledger: “University of Missouri professor Francis Huang analyzed data from a national longitudinal study of kindergarten class of 1998-99 and found that the youngest students were far more likely to be retained, or held back, than other students.”

Huang also homed in on a factor that I and other parents have wondered about, but that I haven’t seen addressed by research before: a child’s physical size. McGlone writes: “Huang also found that a child’s size is related to retention, and that a smaller kindergarten student is more likely to repeat the grade than a larger student. This relationship existed even after accounting for age, socioeconomic status and academic abilities.”

McGlone ends her article with a manifestly sensible comment from the researcher. “‘The youngest students in a classroom can be nine to 12 months less mature than their older peers,’ Huang said. ‘Since older kindergarteners can have as much as 20 percent more life experience than their youngest peers, teachers need to meet students where they are developmentally and adjust instruction based on a student’s ability.'”

Brilliant readers, what do you think? Have you seen beneficial or deleterious effects of redshirting at your child’s school?


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10 Responses to “Redshirting: Good Or Bad? New Research Adds To The Debate”

  1. I’m curious to know the readers thoughts and research about red-shirting from 8th to 9th grade. There is a local school that has a fairly common practice of red-shirting rising 9th graders, not necessarily for academic purposes. I worry about the social implications of being 15 years old and an 8th grader, particularly when one is academically and socially ready for high school. Thoughts?

  2. Justin says:

    We’ve had a couple of students do this at my school recently as well. Their reason for it was because of wrestling. They were physically smaller and wanted to grow before going up to the high school and wrestling. It just worked for one of them as he just finished third in the state as a freshman. Although I fear what his positive result may mean for others thinking about doing a similar thing down the road.

    • Sandra S. says:

      As a former schoolteacher (and general member of society), I’m appalled that an academic institution would make grade-advancement decisions based on sports considerations! Academic ability and emotional/psychological maturity are the only two factors that I think should come into play in making that important decision.

      On a separate note, I also don’t believe that entrance into kindergarten or first grade should be based strictly on age either; it should be based on readiness. It’s unfortunately that most public school systems don’t have the flexibility that private schools do in being able to place students in the most appropriate level, regardless of age. I think this can do grave harm to the child’s future attitudes about school and learning — if he/she is placed in in a grade too low, school ccould seem tedious and the child can become “disconnected”; if the grade level is too high, school could seem frustrating and scary and do harm to the child’s self-image as a capable learner.

  3. David Hamilton says:

    A very thought provoking post. Reading it brought back Gladwell’s book “Outliers”. In the book, Gladwell argues children who are older in the class and more mature are do better both academically and athletically. In my years of coaching and teaching I have witnessed a mixed bag of results.

  4. Anne says:

    My younger daughter is one of the oldest in her class. She missed the cutoff by a day! I asked her opinion before she went into kindergarten, whether she would want to be oldest or youngest, and she chose the former — which was what I wanted too. She’s a small person and at the time didn’t have a lot of social confidence. As I type this, I sound like an over-protective mom! Perhaps that was part of it. She’s done well academically. Her sister is just 18 months older, and I preferred them to be two years apart in school instead of one. I think parents should make the choice, and not be held to an arbitrary cutoff date on the calendar. I also think maturity, rather than athletic potential, should decide the matter.

  5. Jennifer says:

    I actually wish my son could enter school early. He is big for his age, social, likeable, and extremely quick to learn new things. I am afraid that he’ll be bored academically and dislike school if he enters school along side his age-based peers.

    Doing what is right for him at a young age is more important to his dad and I than potential athletic gains in the future. And his dad was a college football player.

  6. Martha says:

    I held back my May born son here in the South where it is very common. Not as common to hold back May, but definitely the summer months. We have a Sept 1 cutoff. It was very difficult decision. I had two years of sleepless nights trying to make the decision. He was academically ready for kindergarten. But he is not that mature and he is on the smaller side 15% in height. He will probably always be on the smaller side, but we felt at least he won’t be the youngest too. He went to a private kindergarten at his preschool at 5 and then went to public kindergarten the next year at 6. In the beginning he did mention that he already knows everything the teacher is teaching. However, his behavior has been good and he likes school. The teacher has done an excellent job of giving him something extra to do right after completing his work. For example, he works on writing, illustrating a story after a worksheet. I feel like this will be the hardest year to get through. But every year after he will be challenged. The school
    I’m at they keep pushing down the curriculum. Meaning what they use to teach in 3rd they teach in 2nd now.
    So far I’m at peace with the decision, but I do fret about him being 18 the summer before senior year and then turning 19 at graduation.

  7. It’s not surprising that children who are younger are more likely to be retained. They may not be retained more often than older kids because they have more academic problems than older children but because they have “room” to be retained. In other words, parents and educators are more hesitant to retain a child who is already older for his/her grade. Something else to consider…when a student is evaluated, with an I.Q. test and some achievement tests, the standard scores and percentiles are age-based, not grade-based. If the student is older for the grade (because he/she has been retained, for example), some of the scores will be artificially deflated because the student’s performance is being compared to other students of the same age who may be a grade ahead.

  8. Terry Roper says:

    As a mid-August birthday girl, I attended both nursery school and kindergarten but when I hit first grade, I had a tough year due to maturity issues so the teacher gave my mother the choice of retaining me in first grade which she opted to do. I did much better the second time around and had a successful school life ever since. As a mother of a boy born in October, I did not have to worry about the ‘redshirting’ issue but as an educator, if his birthday had been closer to start of school year, I would have opted to keep him out until the following year as I know he would have been better prepared. I do think it is a matter of maturity and readiness to sit in chair, follow rules, etc. and that ‘redshirting’ can lesson the need to retain students as they are better prepared to handle the school regime. I also feel that retention, if necessary, works best in the early grades versus later when peer pressure and other factors come into play.

  9. Ashley Smith says:

    The problem with these studies is that someone WILL be the youngest in the class. There will always be someone younger so to say “the older children fare better…” great but not everyone will be the exact same age so that is not a valid reason to redshirt. How does redshirting benefit society as a whole?

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