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Tips for Parents: Academic Redshirting | PDF

Español/Spanish: El ingreso académico retrasado

Are you considering keeping your preschooler out of kindergarten an extra year to provide an academic edge? Before you make that decision, you need to understand the effects of “academic redshirting" by reading this Tips for Parents.

What is “academic redshirting?"

Redshirting is the practice of holding children back a year from starting school in hopes of greater academic success. Studies show, however, that  academic redshirting may have the opposite effect.

What are the effects of academic redshirting?

Poor performance. Studies show that children who are held back tend to perform less well in future schoolwork. They frequently have lower grades and often lack self-esteem. As a result, they are at a higher risk of dropping out of school altogether. Children who are never held back, on the other hand, spend less time in remedial classes, score higher in reading, math, and science, and demonstrate a more positive self-concept.

Unfair competition. Redshirting results in kindergarten classrooms with children who differ in age and preparation. First graders who are barely 6 years old are compared with those who are 7 and one-half years old. This results in unfair comparisons on standardized tests. It also affects extracurricular activities, such as sports or drama.

Social isolation. When children are held back, the average age of their peers is one year younger than theirs. This often results in feelings of social isolation and incompetence. The age difference also harms children’s social and emotional development. Additionally, children may become upset and confused when they discover they won’t be starting kindergarten with their friends.

What other problems can result?

A shift in focus. Teachers who have classes with children of different ages tend to direct their instruction towards the older students. In other words, the curriculum is designed to meet the ends of the older children as well as the expectations of their parents. Again, this leaves the younger children at an unfair disadvantage.

Less achievement and more risks. By the third grade, children who were held back typically show no difference in reading and math scores from children who were never held back. Therefore, redshirting does not necessarily result in greater academic achievement. Instead, research shows that children who are one year too old for a grade level are actually at a higher risk of dropping out of school altogether. In fact, this increases a child’s risk of dropping out by 50 percent for urban students.

What are some alternatives to academic redshirting?

Improved educational approaches. Some experts believe that schools need to be reorganized to meet the needs of all students. Schools and teachers must learn to adapt to students’ different learning styles and capabilities. Ideally, individualized programs for students should be made available in all schools. Contact your child’s school and ask about the availability of such programs.

Prepare your children for school. Children’s readiness for learning depends on early experiences. Such experiences include: parents reading aloud to children, visiting libraries, museums, and historical sites. Child experts say that exposing children to such learning-related activities helps prepare children for success in school. In particular, children whose parents read aloud are likely to develop a strong interest in reading. This usually increases children’s ability to read independently and enhances their success in school.

Talking with your children helps.

The way parents talk with their children affects children’s development. Pay attention to the types of questions you ask and the responses you offer.

  • Are you asking questions that can only be answered with a “Yes” or “No”? Or, do you ask thought-provoking questions?
  • Are you paying genuine attention to your child’s responses?
  • What types of feedback do you provide?
  • Are you interested in what your child is saying, or do you appear preoccupied?

By having talks with your child instead of talking at your child, you will be encouraging critical thinking and problem solving. This is another of the many ways you can help prepare your child for kindergarten and avoid the potential problems associated with redshirting.

For more information:

The Clearinghouse on Early Education and Parenting, Academic Redshirting

Lincove, Jane Arnold. Does the Age that Children Start Kindergarten Matter? Evidence of Long-Term Educational and Social Outcomes. 

You may also find these related Tips for Parents helpful:

Tips for Parents: Flunking

Tips for Parents: Starting School

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