Redshirting - A "Moving" Experience

By Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D.

Big Kids — Little Kids

"Redshirting" is a term that, until recently, has been associated almost exclusively with college sports. A student athlete who is redshirted is kept out of varsity competition for a year, sometimes due to legitimate medical concerns (e.g., an injury that needs more time to heal properly), sometimes for academic reasons (e.g., the need to improve academic standing or fulfill other college enrollment requirements), and sometimes simply to extend eligibility to play college sports. Holding certain student athletes back from competitive team play is also seen as a way to give them more time to mature and to improve their skills. And it is this give-them-another-year-to-develop (or "catch up," as is often said of young children who struggle with learning) that merits serious attention.

Today, academic redshirting also refers to holding back kindergarten-eligible children for one year, the assumption being that they would benefit from additional time for intellectual, emotional or even physical growth. How often is this an issue for concern? The National Center for Education Statistics and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study report that between six and nine percent of age-eligible kindergartners are held back from on-time school entry. What are the reasons given for delaying school entry? Is there any research to support this practice? And what are the outcomes for children who are redshirted for delayed entry into kindergarten? Read on.

Are You Ready?

The question about whether a child should begin kindergarten when he or she reaches the prescribed age for school entry has "readiness" written all over it. And as we all know, "readiness" is not something that can be easily measured. What variables need to be considered when we think about readiness for:

    • a first sleep-over? a summer camp experience? train or plane travel without an adult escort?
    • riding a bicycle without training wheels? swimming in the deep water without a life vest?
    • owning a pocket knife? shopping unaccompanied at a mall? getting a part-time job?

The answers are not so simple because child development is a moving target. Issues of language skill, physical strength, assertiveness and social maturity, self-confidence, flexibility of thinking and resourcefulness, and the ability to assess and juggle decision-making under pressure from adults and peers are all variables that speak to whether a person will be successful on the playground, in school or in the workplace. These characteristics are not easily gleaned from a brief interview, from checklists, or from formal testing. And these characteristics often do not emerge in predictable patterns or develop evenly with age. While it is tempting to assume that another year of "life experience" or "practice" will improve a child's chances of success in school, the research suggests that this is not always the case.

The Research on Redshirting

A Professional Development for Early Childhood Professionals and Families program at the University of Kansas published a great review of the research on redshirting in a question-and- answer format. I've adapted and expanded this worksheet below:

The research says ... that we need more research!

  • Some studies report that in the short run, redshirting can boost a child's confidence, improve academic learning (in math, reading and general knowledge), increase success with social interactions, and perhaps even boost popularity among peers. But the long term benefits of redshirting are not at all clear. In fact, it seems that by third grade, there is no discernable difference between those children who had a late school start and those who did not.
  • Young boys are more frequently redshirted than girls of the same age.
  • Children born in the latter half of the year are more likely to be held back
    • White (non-Hispanic) children are more than twice as likely to enter kindergarten a year later than their age-matched black (non-Hispanic) peers.

Grade retention in the early years is not a guarantee for school success.

  • When compared to their non-retained peers, children who were retained before kindergarten were sixty-six percent more likely to receive negative feedback from teachers during their later school years.
  • Studies have suggested that when these students reach adolescence, they may experience some behavioral difficulties, perhaps stemming from their being a year or more older than their peers. In fact, students who are more than a year older than their classmates are more likely to drop out of high school.

Family income has something to do with redshirting ... but not much.

  • There is a slightly higher incidence of redshirting among affluent families, but all indications are that income is not the most important factor.
  • Greater parental involvement is much more strongly connected to student achievement than family income, although in some communities, these family characteristics tend to go hand in hand.

Redshirting makes teaching more difficult for educators in the early grades.

Young children of the same age vary considerably in terms of their overall development. By adding another year to this age range within the classroom, the learning and behavioral challenges posed are going to be that much greater.

What about the impact of redshirting on children who have not been kept back a year?

Some young children with summer birthdays have a difficult time adjusting to school ... some do not. Some children come to school "ready to read" or with good counting skills...some do not. Widening the gap of "cans" and "can not's" in this pool of youngsters can create unwelcome competition and pressure within the classroom, and intensify the range of emotions that ordinarily help to make the kindergarten classroom such a special and welcoming experience.

Redshirting has feelings too!

Ask any child who has had to repeat a grade how they feel about having been "left back" and you'll quickly realize how serious a decision this is for parents and educators to make. Research suggests that while the positive benefits of starting school late seem to fade during the subsequent two to three years, the emotional baggage of having been retained lingers on. An early study asked young students to rate a series of stressful events, and being left back ranked third, immediately following "going blind" and "losing a parent." Point made!

The LD Connection

The earlier the better when it comes to recognizing and responding to signs of learning disabilities. During the school year, parents and educators should be on the alert for consistent (and persistent) patterns of difficulty that children and adolescents may experience over time as they may signal an underlying learning disability (LD). While variations in the course of development are to be expected, unevenness or lags in the mastery of skills and behaviors, even with children as young as four or five, should not be ignored. And because LD can co-occur with other disorders, it's important to keep careful and complete records of observations and impressions so they can be shared among parents, educators and related service providers when making important decisions about needed services and supports.

Keep in mind that LD is a term that describes a heterogeneous ("mixed bag") group of disorders that impact listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, math, and social skills. And remember: learning disabilities do not go away! A learning disability is not something that can be outgrown or that is "cured" by medication, therapy, or expert tutoring. So, early recognition of warning signs, well-targeted screening and assessment, effective intervention, and ongoing monitoring of progress are critical to helping individuals with LD succeed in school, in the workplace, and in life.

NCLD's Learning Disabilities Checklist is meant as a helpful guide to recognizing signs of LD (and not as a tool to pinpoint specific learning disabilities). The more characteristics you check, the more likely the individual described is at risk for (or shows signs of) learning disabilities. When filling out this form, think about the person's behavior over at least the past six months in such domains as gross and fine motor skills, language, reading, written language, math, social/emotional, and attention. And when you're done, don't wait to seek assistance from school personnel or other professionals.

If You Are Thinking about Delayed Entrance to Kindergarten

Here are some suggestions for parents and educators to consider when discussing the benefits of redshirting for individual children:

  • Be clear about the specific characteristics of the children for whom you have concerns and the reasons why you think they might benefit from another pre-K experience. Being the youngest in the grade or not knowing how to tie shoes are not good reasons to delay kindergarten entry! And be sure to include parents, preschool providers and kindergarten teachers in this conversation!
  • Consider the physical and instructional flow of the kindergarten classroom and make sure that there are opportunities for mixed-age classes of children to make progress at their own pace.
  • A well-designed curriculum that is both age and developmentally appropriate for each child can make an enormous difference for students who are at either end of the developmental continuum. Think and plan ahead about the types of adjustment that will enable timid or reluctant, average, and more advanced learners to succeed.
  • All-day kindergarten is recommended for most children, and can be especially helpful in evening out the disparity in readiness that is typical of many kindergarteners.
  • Some children are going to need individualized attention and additional support. Decide what help is needed, both inside and outside the school setting, and make attention to these concerns a priority. Earlier is better when it comes to recognizing and responding to children's early struggles with learning.
  • Use screening and evaluation data appropriately. It is much better to use the outcome of these studies to design and adapt curriculum that meets the needs of all young learners than it is to use these data to make placement decisions or assumptions about the progress of individual students before they've acclimated to kindergarten.
  • Smaller is better when it comes to class size. Fewer students in a class means more individualized attention for all students, and more opportunities for children who are shy, who are behind in motor skills and physical coordination, and who have special challenges because of life circumstance or language issues.

Readings and Resources

The Early Reading and Mathematics Achievement of Children Who Repeated Kindergarten or Who Began School a Year Late
This report uses data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-88 (ECLS-K), to examine the relationship between redshirting children and children's spring first grade reading and mathematics achievement.

The Pros and Cons of "Holding Out"
This article, from the Wisconsin Center for Education Research,· discusses the pros and cons of redshirting using data from 367 Wisconsin elementary schools.

Prepared for Kindergarten: What Does "Readiness" Mean?
This policy report, by the National Institute for Early Education Research, examines key issues for public policy related to school readiness, the relationship between school readiness and other factors in young children's lives, and the challenges in readying children for kindergarten.

Are They Ready for Kindergarten? The Pros and Cons of Redshirting Young Children
These four articles discuss both academic and social development issues and effects on young children.

What Are the Effects of Academic Redshirting?
This article defines reshirting and discusses how often it occurs, what its effects are, and presents suggestions for parents considering redshirting.

Academic redshirting: Does withholding a child from school entrance for one year increase academic success?
This study examines scores on second, third and fourth grade reading and mathematics tests from a rural school district in Western New York to determine the effects of beginning school age on later school success.

He Has a Summer Birthday: The Kindergarten Entrance Age Dilemma
This article suggests that research cited in support of delayed entrance into kindergarten is meager and somewhat contradictory.

This digest is also available in Spanish: Su cumpleanos es en el verano: El dilema de la edad de entrada al jardin pre-escolar

Academic Redshirting and Young Children
This article discusses incidents and effects of redshirting, as well as suggestions for parents.

"Too Young for Kindergarten!" What Does the Research Say?
This article suggests that parents' worries about their children not being ready for kindergarten may be unfounded.

The Elementary School Performance and Adjustment of Children Who Enter Kindergarten Late or Repeat Kindergarten: Findings from National Surveys
This report details such data as how many U.S. children have experienced delayed entry into kindergarten, what family characteristics are associated with this delay, and the relationship of redshirting and socioeconomic background.

Opportunity Deferred or Opportunity Taken?: An updated look at delaying kindergarten entry
This review suggests that the only legally and ethically defensible criterion for determining school entry is whether the child has reached the legal chronological age of school entry.

More Parents "Redshirting" Kindergartners
Research on redshirting suggests that the benefits are tempered by the costs, from an extra year of childcare for parents to a year less in the workforce for kids. Even the size of the benefits is up for debate. For that reason, many education experts and economists are wary of redshirting.

The Effects of Academic Redshirting and Relative Age on Student Achievement
Based on studies about relative age effects in the classroom, the research shows that older children have higher academic achievement than younger children in the same grade.

Sheldon Horowitz, Ed.D. is the Director of Professional Services at the National Center for Learning Disabilities. This article first appeared as a Research Roundup column in LD News.

Read all Research Roundup Columns by Dr. Horowitz in the Research Roundup Archive.


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