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Academic Redshirting and Young Children

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Dec 16, 2008

The term redshirting originally referred to postponing a college athlete's participation in regular season games for one year to give him an extra year of further growth and practice with the team in the hope of improving the player's skills for future seasons.

Academic redshirting for young children refers to the practice of postponing entrance into kindergarten of age-eligible children in order to allow extra time for socioemotional, intellectual, or physical growth. This kind of redshirting is most often practiced in the case of children whose birthdays are so close to the cut-off dates that they are very likely to be among the youngest in their kindergarten class. This Digest discusses what studies have said thus far about redshirting and its potential effects, and offers suggestions for parents considering delaying their child's entrance into kindergarten.

Incidence of Redshirting

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that academic redshirting occurs at the rate of about 9% per year among kindergarten-age children (West, Meek, & Hurst, 2000). Redshirting has traditionally been more common in affluent communities and for children attending private schools, although some scholars speculate that there may have been a recent increase in certain public school districts (Brent et al., 1996). According to NCES, boys are more often redshirted than girls, and children born in the latter half of the year are more likely to be redshirted than those born earlier. The NCES report also shows that white, non-Hispanic children are more than twice as likely as black, non-Hispanic children to have entered kindergarten later than their birthdays allowed (West, Meek, & Hurst, 2000).

Redshirting may be a response to demands for a higher level of school readiness (Graue & DiPerna, in press; May et al., 1995). In a national survey, teachers indicated that 48% of their students were not ready for the current kindergarten curriculum (NCEDL, 1998). Alarmingly high percentages of teachers indicated that half of their students lacked important skills, including "following directions" (46%), "academic skills" (36%), and the ability to "work independently" (34%). In light of such data, many scholars suggest that academic curricula are not appropriate for young children (Graue & DiPerna, in press; May et al., 1995; Shepard & Smith, 1988).

Effects of Redshirting

Research on redshirting has so far failed to provide a clear picture of its short- and long-term effects. Some studies have examined the effects of redshirting that occur immediately or within the early elementary years. Others have examined its long-term effects. Proponents and opponents of redshirting often use the same evidence but reach opposite conclusions. It is therefore unclear whether redshirting solves problems of school readiness.

Immediate Effects. Research on academic redshirting suggests that in the short term, redshirting (1) raises the child's academic achievement (math, reading, general knowledge) and conduct on par with or above that of younger classmates (West, Denton, & Germino-Hausken, 2000); (2) increases the child's confidence in social interactions and popularity among classmates (Spitzer et al., 1995); and (3) may simply add to the normal mix of ages and abilities within the classroom. However, there is also some speculation that, in classes where there are children who have been redshirted, some older children may feel alienated from their younger classmates, and some older classmates may have an unfair advantage over younger classmates in size and in psychomotor and social skills. The presence of children of a wider age span may also make the class too diverse for a teacher to manage well.

Effects in Grades 1-3. Researchers have observed other effects of redshirting within the first three years of elementary school, including (1) academic achievement that is nearly equal to that of their grade-level peers (West, Meek, & Hurst, 2000), (2) a lower likelihood of receiving "negative feedback from teachers about their academic performance or conduct in class" (Cromwell, 1998; West, Meek, & Hurst, 2000), and (3) less need for special education than classmates who were retained as kindergarteners (Kundert et al., 1995; May et al., 1995). However, there is also evidence that some first- through third-graders who were redshirted as children required greater use of special education services than their non-redshirted and non-retained classmates (Graue & DiPerna, in press; May et al., 1995).

Long-term Effects. Proponents of redshirting often point out that there is no definitive evidence to show that redshirting harms children in the long term. However, Byrd et al. (1997) found that adolescents whose school entry had been delayed exhibited more behavioral problems than their classmates. Moreover, in light of evidence of a higher use of special education by redshirted youths, there is a great deal of speculation that many individuals who were redshirted as kindergarteners may have had special needs that were misdiagnosed as immaturity and that should have been treated by some form of direct intervention other than delayed entry (May et al., 1995; Graue & DiPerna, in press).

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