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Understanding Academic Redshirting and If Parents Should Hold Back

Updated on June 2, 2017
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He is a former journalist who has worked on various community and college publications.

Every September, a new group of impressionable children enter kindergarten. At five years of age, most children in the United States will be expected to take this critical step. However, not all of them will be doing this at the same time; some will postpone this inevitable event by a year.

This practice of postponing kindergarten is known as academic redshirting. It centers on the concerns parents may have about the readiness of their children. Often, those parents feel that their children are not emotionally, intellectually, or physically ready and may need an extra year to develop these skills.

Although it is viewed by parents and some educators as a worthy tactic to prepare children for the rigors of education, actual research on its validity has been inconclusive. In many respects, there have been some positive and negative outcomes to this practice. Either way, the implications of academic redshirting is based on several factors that may improve or hurt the children's chances of succeeding in school.

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From Sports to the Classroom

The practice is not new; it has been done for several decades. However, it’s only been a hot topic for the last 15-20 years.

The trend has been observed by education researchers. According to The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report, during the 2006-2007 school years, 7% of children had parents who had plans to delay their entrance into kindergarten (Illinois Early Learning Project, 2010).

Redshirting (as term is often known) derives its name from a common practice in college athletic programs, in which, a college athlete postpones -- or is chosen to postpone -- his/her participation in regular season games for one year in order to further practice and prepare with the team. This is done in hopes preserving a year of eligibility to play collegiate sports, as well as to improve his/her skills for future seasons (Katz, 2000).

...redshirting has been traditionally common in affluent neighborhood and for children attending private schools.

According to Lilian Katz from her article, “Academic redshirting and Young Children,” redshirting has been traditionally common in affluent neighborhood and for children attending private schools.

Also, it appears more frequently among boys and for those born in the latter half of the year (between September and December) than with those girls or those born earlier in a year. Also, the statistics from NCES reveals that more white families than any other ethnicity will use academic redshirting.

Parental concerns play a crucial role. In most cases, it’s a judgment call. Still, other factors may play a role in this decision.

How Teachers View Them

Parents are not the only ones who've expressed their opinions on the matter. Teachers have indicated some support for academic redshirting. According to a national survey published in 1998 (NCEDL), kindergarten teachers indicated that 48% of their students were not ready for the rigors and curriculum of this grade.

Also, many teachers indicated that half their students lacked important skills, including following directions, academic skills, and the ability to work independently (Katz, 2000). However, it’s not the teacher who ultimately makes the decision.

The Good, the Bad and the Alienated

Results from studies on this practice defer in many ways. Short term effects appear to be drastic. Research has shown that it can raise a child’s academic achievement that’s at or above their younger classmates; it can increase the child’s confidence in academic and social settings; and adds a variety of age, maturity and knowledge to the classroom setting.

On the other hand, there’s speculation that academic redshirting might have a disadvantage for the child. It’s been reported that some older children may have feelings of alienation with their younger classmates. Although the argument for academic redshirting centers around the child’s social, emotional and intellectual maturity, little support is given for physical or motor maturity. On top of this, the child may view himself as being intellectually inferior to children at his age.

Other studies examined the effect of academic redshirting on the child when they reach the critical grades range between 1st and 3rd grade. Again, the findings were inconclusive in term of having a positive or negative effect. Some of the more interesting findings were that the child was consistent at performing academically with his grade-level peers; was rarely receiving negative feedback from teachers; or was less inclined to be referred for special education services as compared to those who were retained during kindergarten.

One particular study examined the reading and mathematics test scores of second, third and fourth graders. The study used 352 participants in a rural school district in Western New York, and divided them into three groups:

  • age appropriate students;
  • students younger than their grade group;
  • and those that were redshirted.

The results showed that “statistically significant differences were noted among the three groups or between the genders on either the reading or mathematics achievement measures (March, 2005).”

The negatives part of academic redshirting seems to show up when examining its long-term effect. According to Katz, adolescents who had been redshirted were more likely to have behavioral problems than their classmates.

As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2006, results for academic redshirting have been a mixed bag.

Another negative part of redshirting deals with students with special needs. The study seems to indicate that redshirted youths who later ended up in special education may have been misdiagnosed as being immature, and were redshirted for this reason. As a result, they missed a chance at early and direct intervention

Academic Redshirting: Do you Agree or Disagree?

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A Mixed Bag

Still, other studies suggest that there are no negative effects in the long-term. Again, the data and studies made from them don’t paint a distinct picture of the positives and negatives of academic redshirting.

As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2006, results for academic redshirting have been a “mixed bag.” All studies - including a federal study that included 21,000 youngsters in May of 2006 -failed to definitively to show if it worked or not.

A Judgment Call

At this point, academic redshirting will not hurt or help a child. Even the college version doesn’t mean the athlete will become success or failure in the next season or beyond. Still, both forms of redshirting have helped some achieve while hindering others.

For parents, it’s a judgment call in which the outcomes may well be based on the individual child’s determination or abilities.

© 2017 Dean Traylor

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    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 6 months ago from Hereford, AZ

      My brother was a mommy's boy. He could not stand the thought of being away from mommy when he turned 5. My mom thought he was emotionally immature and so she talked to her mother, who was a teacher and principal. They agreed that he was not ready yet and he would be better off to wait another year. His birthday was in Dec. My mom went down and talked to the principal at the school he would attend and told her what they had decided. The principal knew my sister and I, was watching my brother, and agreed that it would be the correct thing to do. This was back in the 60's.

      I have since seen some kids be held back to give them an advantage over the other kids their age. This was done deliberately, not because of their immaturity, but because the parents wanted their child to have an advantage. I do not think this is correct. A child should be held back because of immaturity, but not to give them an advantage over the other kids. The principals and teachers should have the say on this, after watching the child to see if they are exhibiting immature behavior. This should not be allowed to give an unfair advantage.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 6 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      The schools usually don't allow children who have not completed 5 years of age at the time of admissions to First Grade class. So, those born in the later half of the year naturally get detained for the next year. This makes the child elder than other students in his class when he joins the school at the commencement of the next academic year.