On "Red-shirting" Kindergarteners

Several readers had some thoughts on this practice of holding back a child to enter kindergarten much later than at age five.

I came across a couple of good articles on this topic I wanted to pass along.
From the Bright blog, Everything You Need to Know about "Redshirting"
Kindergarten’s role as “the new first grade” was further cemented when — beginning in the mid-1970s — many states began to raise their cutoff dates, resulting in a consistently older pool of students, and consequently raising teachers’ expectations for behavior and learning skills.

Is redshirting effective?

Researchers have found varied results. While some studies assert that younger students are more likely to underperform on standardized tests, and that older students may fare better academically or take on more leadership roles, a number of other studies have demonstrated the opposite. In 2006, one comprehensive study noted that adult students who had been redshirted were actually slightly less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree, and earned less in the workforce on average. The only benefit their slightly older age seemed to offer them, researchers noted, was an enhanced ability in organized sports. Other studies have shown that older students demonstrate a lack of motivation in class, and might even have lower IQ scores than their non-redshirted peers.

What’s next for redshirting?

Most school districts do not track or officially encourage or discourage redshirting. However, the nation’s largest school district, New York City, has adopted policies that make the practice much more difficult for parents.
I note that this blog is funded by the Gates Foundation but this is one of the more straight-forward blogs I have seen.

The second article is from Slate - The Downside of Redshirting
At what age should children go to kindergarten? 
At what age should your child go to kindergarten? 
What if these questions appear to have different answers?
A new study suggests that the effects of kindergarten redshirting are more serious and long-term than one might have thought.
As Elizabeth Weil noted in a great piece on redshirting in the New York Times Magazine last year, almost half the states have pushed back their birthday cutoffs since 1975, several of them fairly recently.
It's easy to see what the states are up to: They're worried about test scores, and they figure that older kids plus academic kindergarten will produce better ones.  
If this delay did help, we could expect to see a cheery rise in the scores of 17-year-olds along with the rise in the number of 6-year-old kindergartners. Instead, the basic level of proficiency of 17-year-olds on the National Assessment of Education Progress "has not risen at a rate that would suggest the majority of students are learning at a grade level higher than they were 20 years ago," Deming and Dynarski write.
But guess what?  It's probably not good for lower-income students whose parents can't do this and
There is substantial evidence that entering school later reduces educational attainment (by increasing high school drop out rates) and depresses lifetime earnings (by delaying entry into the job market)," the authors write. Also, "recent stagnation in the high school and college completion rates of young people is partly explained by their later start in primary school."
No evidence of a lasting redshirting benefit, though, isn't the same as convincing evidence of no benefit. What a lot of parents really want to know is whether redshirting improves a kid's chances of grabbing the brass ring—admission to an elite college. Deming and Dynarski say they are "exploring whether age effects persist in this competitive arena."
This does not mean that redshirting upper-middle-class kids turns them into high-school drop-outs. Deming and Dynarski show that in 1968, 96 percent of 6-year-olds were enrolled in first grade or higher. In 2005, the rate was 84 percent.

Redshirting explains two-thirds of the change, the authors find, and changes in state laws explain the rest.
The kids who start later because of the legal changes—a group that is socio-economically broad—are probably fueling the second trend that Deming and Dynarski point to: fewer 17-year-olds in 12th grade or in college, which translates to fewer years of school for more kids. Laws in the United States (as opposed to some European countries) mandate that kids stay in school, not for a requisite number of years but until they are 18. "Poor kids are disproportionately likely to drop out as soon as they can, when they turn 18," Dynarski explains. "If they start at 6 instead of 5, that's one year less of school."
The place where redshirting is a proven advantage is the sports field. For example, 60 percent more Major League Baseball players are born in August than in July, and the birthday cutoff for youth baseball is July 31. But athletics, Dynarski points out, isn't academics.


Rick said…
I have a kindergartner this year who won't turn 6 until August, and he is in the same kindergarten class with a child who will be turning 8 this summer. I think the 8-year-old is bored out of his mind, and I think it's unfair to the 5-year-olds to be in class with kids so developmentally ahead of them. But the school district can't really become more strict with with redshirting practices like this, I was told by Jill Geary a couple of years ago, because school isn't compulsory until age 7 under state law. So the practice continues. Personally I think redshirting causes more problems than it solves and it should not be a thing.

Now, that said, there are cases where it makes sense to hold someone back in school who needs more time to develop a skill or skills, or for someone who needs the advanced work (eg, highly capable kids) to be promoted. So I'm not blanket opposed to cohorts of non-age-peers. But the practice should be treated much more skeptically than it is at the moment. For all the stink people unjustly raise about HCC, I see redshirting as far more pernicious a problem that is somehow off of equity advocates' radar.
Anonymous said…
My kid was bullied all through kindergarten by a significantly older child (7). It was agonizing - at a time when starting school should have been fun. I asked the principal to separate them into different classrooms but she ignored our requests. Finally we changed schools and all was well. The problem is that these kids are socially significantly older even if they are academically similar. Although my experience is limited - I see it as a problem. More so if it is a cynical attempt to raise test scores because I don't think that effect, if it exists, can be counted on.

Anonymous said…
I'm actually a bit concerned with the opposite of redshirting. My younger child is too young for school yet, but she's got a late September birthday - she'll be turning 6 just days after she starts kindergarten. As someone who was always the youngest in her class, this frankly sounds grim to me - being 14 in middle school, being old enough to vote and still in high school. Now, maybe it'll be the right fit for her, but what if she seems ready to start school at 5? Can you start early in SPS?

Anonymous said…
Yes, early admission to K is possible - see Enrollment FAQ page.


Rick, that is downright odd. I wonder what the teacher thinks. I think coming in at 6 is enough but older than that and it's a mess where kids are developmentally, both in academics and socialization.
Bruno said…
The decision is presumably made with the best interest of the child in mind. But the decision is not equally available to all parents. What if a child would really benefit from waiting a year, but the family can't afford another year of preschool or another year with a parent staying home? It seems like a big equity issue that only some families have the opportunity to consider making this choice.

The way this plays out in kindergarten classrooms is often that children from relatively wealthier families (who were already more likely not only to have had access to better preschool programs and are statistically more likely to have had their parents speak more words to them before entering school) are able to benefit from an extra year of this better preparation. In my child's kindergarten that really widened the achievement gap a lot. There would already have been a gap even if the kids were the same chronological age. But the gap was dramatically widened by the better prepared kids being better prepared AND older with more time to prepare better. The kids who would have benefited from waiting a year to start but whose families couldn't afford it were physically smaller, had less "fancy" preschool CVs, were a year less coordinated, had had a year less of socioemotional learning, were often less prepared to start reading, etc. The gap was exacerbated.
Martha said…
Lost in the macro statistics are differences in outcome that depend very much on individual family circumstance. I know a child that with a summer birthday that was redshirted that went through public school and then on to a top university. I know another child that wasn’t redshirted that upon admission to a top private middle school re-did a year upon entry at the suggestion of the school. I know yet another child that is in HCC that was redshirted and doing great. What all of these kids had were parents that had specific reasons to redshirt and a related plan and support with excellent results.

One study of kids from families with upper social economic status found that, “On the Life Satisfaction Scale, redshirted students showed significantly higher levels of life satisfaction than those who had not been redshirted.” Conversely, a variety of studies for redshirted kids from families with lower social economic status have found them to be less academically successful later on.

Redshirting can absolutely be the right decision for an individual family and child.
Anonymous said…
The cutoff age for the largest youth baseball, Little League, is May 1st, not summer. At that late date, it's pretty irrelevant whether you redshirted K or not.

Anonymous said…
Pollyanna, my kid has friends with late September B-days who started K early. It seemed to work great for them.

Anonymous said…
The cutoff age for Little League is, indeed, the end of summer. It changed a few years ago. Very near and dear as my son is a very small statured July birthday :(

Anonymous said…
The research supposedly showing that students who were redshirted ended up with all these negative outcomes (e.g, higher dropout rates, learning less $ as adults, lower IQs, etc.) seems suspect to me. The articles portray these as consequences of redshirting--thus implying the correlation is actually causation. But isn't it reasonable that a parent might decide to hold a student back because they exhibit signs that they aren't likely to be as successful in school? Fo example, might a parent who sensed that their child's IQ was low compared to age-peers think they weren't quite ready for school and hold them back, thinking they'd be more ready the following year? If their IQ is lower later on, is that really due to redshirting? Does that similarly mean that if a parent has a highly gifted child start school early and that person has a high IQ as an adult, the high IQ was due to the early start? Of course not. Decisions about when to start are usually based on many individual factors, and it's those factors that seem more likely to influence the outcomes, not the redshirting. Maybe redshirting is a symptom rather than a cause.

Anonymous said…
It's been a strategy in sports for years, and then Malcolm Gladwell made it popular for the academic component of advantage seekers. The youngest boys in the class who are small are at an obvious disadvantage for grade-based sports. Gladwell generalized the disadvantage to other areas.

Redshirting just bumps the disadvantage back to earlier months if they are among demographic peers (there will always be the youngest kids in the class), and exaggerates the shift if there is some diversity in the group.

It is a good idea for an immature kid who is in an increasingly demanding academic-based kindergarten. Also, if it's done to get ahead--and the HCC achievement section is an example--it might work.

Then again, when SPS finally starts functioning in terms of best practices (about 10 years after many parts of the country), cut-off scores won't matter so much anymore (and I know that the CogAT is based on age).

In the meantime, it is helpful for some. I just regret when it's used as a tool to one-up (yet in the long run, it will mostly level out for them anyway).

We didn't even hear about redshirting for academics until Outliers (circa 2008).

Advantage Seekers
Anonymous said…
Redshirting could be a disadvantage when tests are age normed rather than grade normed. If I understand correctly, with age normed tests you are compared to a group of similarly aged students, so a young for grade student would be at a comparative advantage to an old for grade student. The same raw score for the younger student could result in a higher percentile rank than for an older student. Not so for grade normed achievement tests (SBAC), where the older student could have an advantage over the younger student simply because they've had a year's more learning.

I sometimes wonder if schools are inadvertently encouraging redshirting, especially for active boys. If girls are better able to sit for longer periods, even if it may be developmentally inappropriate to expect so much at that age, they may be seen as more mature.

gender bias?
Anonymous said…
Lower SES folk are not redshirting, so it's not about schools.
Malcolm Gladwell appeals to the NRP audience, not "schools" in general.

Redshirting for sports was always based on gender bias. Redshirting is class
biased but the former gender bias from sport and (nature/nurture) is also impacting

Kindergarten is the new first grade (just like Orange is the New Black).

Active boys (and active girls) are always at a disadvantage in most schools.
Girls are often taught (and expected) to behave more than boys, and there
also may be some nature involved (but don't quote me on that).

Again, without Gladwell's book, this wouldn't be happening.

Advantage Seekers
Jet City mom said…
We are blue collar family and both children had early summer birthdays with some challenges.( physical & academic)
They each were in a 5s program or tiny private school for their initial introduction to school.
I wanted them to have a better school experience than I did, which had been starting kindergarten when I was 4, basically because I was a reader, but really struggling with social and gross motor activities, and eventually dropping out of high school.
They were always among the youngest in their class, which wasnt ideal, but they did both graduate from college.
Anonymous said…
That's a stretch, @enough already, or whomever. Redshirting parents are the cause of K becoming the new 1st grade?? What about NCLB and the obsession over test scores? Do you not think that is the larger driver of K no longer being a more play based environment?

If a child was born prematurely and the parents decide a later school start may be in their child's best interest, who are we to judge? There are many, many reasons for either an early or late entry to K. I like to think most parents are acting in the best interest of their children.

good golly
1) Kindergarten is much more advanced and fast-paced than it was when my kids were in school. A lot of that is Common Core and frankly, it makes me sad. Many early childhood experts think CC is developmentally inappropriate for K-2 and I'm inclined to agree.

2) I agree that parents are acting in their child's own best interests. However, there should not be a 7 or 8 year old in a kindergarten class.

(Full disclosure - I did red-shirt my own September birthday kid as being one of the youngest and smallest (if you know how short I am, you can see the issue) in the class his entire school career. )
Anonymous said…
According to a 2008 reference, cited by the Illinois Early Learning Project:

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that, nationally, during the 2006-2007 school year, 7% of children had parents who planned to delay their entrance into kindergarten. This statistic included a higher percentage of boys than girls and a lower percentage of children living in poor households compared with nonpoor households (O’Donnell, 2008).

It was considered a "low-incidence practice that clusters in certain communities."


Fall 2010 data from NCES indicates 6% percent of students were "redshirted," and 1% of children were early entry.


Anonymous said…
This article relates to Melissa's point 1), about the developmental leap in K, and how Montessori education can provide a better transition:


Po3 said…
A problem I have seen with redshirting is parents treat the "red-shirted student" as their biological age, not academic age and so you see kids driving a full year before their peers.

I wish parents would remember that if their kid wasn't ready for kindergarten at 5, they probably aren't ready to start the driving process in 9th grade.

Martha said…
Life Expectancy is up. Knowledge expected at high school graduation is up. If a child was born in July or August, and the parents have the means and desire to pay for an extra year of pre-k, is that really such a bad thing?

* Class Bully: Summer birthdays can either be the youngest in the class or the oldest in the class. If they are the oldest, perhaps they may turn out to be the class bully. On the other hand, if they are the youngest, they may turn out to be the one that is bullied. Or perhaps not.

* HCC: Will redshirting help in gaining HCC admission? The achievement tests are grade-normed, so redshirting with an extra year of high qualify pre-k can absolutely help early on just as if they are not redshirted they will be at a significant disadvantage during K achievement testing. The CogAT tests, on the other hand, are age-normed, so redshirting plus high-quality pre-k can compensate during K testing, but as they grow older, redshirting may hinder CogAT testing.

* Sports: If you are thinking ahead to middle school or high school sports, then redshirting could absolutely help. But early on, many sports such as Soccer are based on age, not grade. In fact, some parents even have their kids play "up an age" for an additional challenge.

* Chess: Most of the early chess tournaments are done based on grade, so being red-shirted could provide an advantage.

* Driving in 9th Grade: Po3 suggests above that red-shirted kids shouldn't be allowed to drive based on their age, but instead based on their grade. I actually would prefer there to be different driving ages based on height and gender.

* Academic Achievement and College: Some kids from upper socio-economic-status families that take advantage of the extra year may seem to benefit academically while some kids from lower EES families may not.

* And so on...

No two kids are the same. No two families are the same. Parenting is hard. The goal should be to provide parents with the best information possible so they can make informed decisions. Not judging from the outside. Life is not a race.

Anonymous said…

Yes - there are things to consider st the other end. My daughter's bday is Oct 5 and she started just before turning 6. She liked voting as a senior but I didn't realize that it can make some things more complicated since they are legally an adult but still in HS. Like healthcare stuff (had to have her sign a form at the Dr so they would talk to me), housing if you are a renter (had to fight with landlords to keep her as a 'tenant' not an adult financially/legally responsible on the lease since she aged into adulthood when living there), etc. and you stop getting the Child Tax Credit at 17....but we worked through it all. But I wish I'd known some of those things when she started K - though I didn't technically redshirt her - her birthday was just after the cutoff by a month of so....

(former) Franklin Parent
Anonymous said…
Except, maybe by that time, Po3, they are? Ten years have passed. Aren't you making a similar decision all over again, based on your child's maturity and family situation? In this case, delaying driving can save families money, as adding a teenage driver can increase insurance costs. Some families may even wait until age 18 to avoid the cost of the drivers ed.

For HCC, there was (or is?) an unwritten policy about not advancing students to HCC if they had already been grade skipped or early entry. In elementary, they recommended repeating a grade if enrolling in HCC, but for middle school that practice (policy?) went away. Best to know district policies and practices before making decisions.

decisions decisions
Another View said…
IMO, academic standards are being pushed down into prek. K is the new first grade. I've thought it not a bad idea for students to begin K during their 6th year- especially boys.
NNE Mom said…
I wonder why New York cracked down on it? Equity issues?
Anonymous said…
Can't you just skip K all together and enroll your 6 year old in first directly? Just because your kid isn't ready for a full day of desk time at 5 doesn't mean you have to hold them back, right?

Outsider said…
Let's say you have a boy whose optimal age to enter kindergarten would be 5.6 years, but given where his birthday happens to sit in the calendar year, your only choices are 5.1 and 6.1. You are looking at both advantages and disadvantages to either choice. Choosing 6.1 (red-shirting) could seem like the better choice on balance.

From my experience, Seattle kindergartens are reasonably good, but have a rigid one-size-fits-all mentality. They are especially unwilling to tolerate a boy whose intellectual development or curiosity doesn't match up in girl fashion to his ability to sit still or willingness to follow a schedule or directions, or persevere through something that doesn't make sense at that moment, or do boring busywork just because the teacher says so. Even if it would be best for your son to start into school work at age 5.1 in a supportive, flexible environment, that is not what SPS kindergarten has to offer. You could end up instead with a lot of conflict between the child and teacher and the start of a lot of negative dynamics that are hard to get out of later.
Anonymous said…
Youngest Kid, Smartest Kid?

Another perspective from The New Yorker:


As West suggests, bypassing K in SPS is also an option. Go private for K, with the possibility of smaller classes and more individualized attention.

Jet City mom said…
When I was in school, Kindergarten was 1/2 day.
Younger students attended in the morning and older students attended in afternoon. ( Actually when my oldest was in the North Seattle 5's, that was also a half day program)
I realize many parents would still need childcare, however, if schools offered space on site ( as some do), this would be an easy solve, instead of forcing the students into a situation which may not be developmentally appropriate. Potentially setting them up for associating frustration and boredom with school.

When my mother attended Kindergarten, they went as far as to have students start halfway through the year.
Her birthday was not until November, so she did not start until January.

I wonder if academic outcomes would improve if we considered what fit developmentally.
Anonymous said…
Something does not fit in kindergarten. By far the largest number of kids that are tested for AL are in K, and more than half don't make the cut. This doesn't mean that their K experience was the right placement. If kids are forced to sit and learn nothing for a year then the are regressed to the norm, but not given an education, or opportunity for growth.

Can we give a placement test and start some in 1st?

juicygoofy said…
Jet City mom,

Interesting that you mentioned your mother starting school in January. My mother, as well, in the 1950's started 1st grade in January, shortly before her 6th birthday. This was 7 months early, compared to when one would start today. It worked phenomenally well for her (early graduations continuing into college), and we've always lamented that practice disappearing.

The other issue I note is that Seattle has a relatively late (or early) birthdate cutoff, depending on how you look at it. I know of other districts where the cutoff is January 1, not September. Seattle is essentially forcing red-shirting for a subset of students & giving the option to NOT redshirt with early K entrance. Those born between September and December could be enrolled a year earlier elsewhere.
Anonymous said…
@ Advantage Seeker,

Back in 2004, when there was a switch to all day K, the three elementary schools closest to my home, directly and unequivocally, told me to hold back my summer birthday child and not hold back the rest of the K classroom.

The schools at that point, were very clear that all day K was the equivalent of first grade and that they needed the kids to be ready for first grade to go into K.

Gladwell may have made this more common knowledge but .... NCLB really pushed this practice ... hard.

NE Parent

mom said…
I taught KG and could see quite plainly that the boy's that were older did better in both beaviotpr and understanding and matched the girl's in focus. I had trouble enrolling my son one year later. He has a May birthday. I got to keep him home an extra year and enjoy him before giving him up,for 6 hours at school. He has gotten straight As, tested into APP, and has friends and only positive teacher comments. He wants to be a doctor and I am sure he will. I think these studies are silly and unscientific. Too many variables to get in the way of clean results. I'm happy I had that experts tear with my son.
Anonymous said…
@ Martha- Regarding HCC qualification "but as they grow older, redshirting may hinder CogAT testing." Yes, we have a child who has an August 31st birthday. We actually started the child, and he had issues so at the advice of the school psychologist so we pulled him out after a month. The K teacher told us that this particular public school was more like first grade in K. Our child was socially immature and the elementary school psychologist actually recommended we wait a year. If the child had been born Sept 1st would have been in next grade anyway. This child was not tested in K, but later in grade 3 and had very high achievement scores but missed Cogat cutoff by two points. I think age was a factor as was being age normed with kids.
- Mama NE
Another View said…
Pushing cut off dates from September to January sure sounds like a great idea.
Anonymous said…
NE Parent,

Thanks for the information. It makes sense since many idea changes are based on a convergence of influences and may or may not be beneficial over time.

Advantage Seekers

Anonymous said…
For a majority of states, the cutoff date for K is on or near Sept. 1.


Anonymous said…
@ Advantage Seekers,

Yes, many factors in a change of norms and practices.

What has been very surprising to me is how "transparent" this conversation was back in 2004, relative to now. NCLB testing and the requirement for year-over-year progress for all schools, including high performing schools, meant that is was a very open conversation about how "progress" could only be made by pushing some standards down a grade.

On the K tours we took in 2004 and again in 2006, a very large focus on each tour was the third grade test scores and what the school was doing to maintain those score. At that time, Kindergarten teachers spoke openly about how K had changed dramatically in a short window.

What surprised me then was that they all kept saying that the point of K was previously socialization but now it was to ensure that all of the students started first grade reading. That if the student was not reading in first grade, they needed to start interventions. Therefore, it was better to just start that in K. This only makes sense when you realize that because of the choice system, K was the big entry grade and only a handful of students were admitted to any of the "good" schools in first grade or beyond. So teachers really did think in terms of starting at K with the students who would be tested in later years.

The message to families was very clear, if you want socialization, you need another year of pre-school, because K was academic. Two principals told me pointedly and directly that they really didn't want summer birthdays entering K and that you should "pick" another school. As this was the height of the choice era, that was a common and accepted practice, to directly tell families that this school was not a fit and that there would be no effort made on behalf of your child.

One local elementary was "infamous" for their 100% 5th grade pass rate. This happened in large part, because any child who was not likely to pass was "counseled" to apply via choice to another local school that was more likely to give services.

Redshirting was a natural consequence of the test score obsession.

- NE parent
Damon said…
A flip side to preparedness is trajectory.

At barely-5, my kid was toward the bottom of the heap at the start of K, especially in reading. But she flew up the ranks that year, and I think she thinks of herself as someone who rises in achievement not just in absolute terms, but relatively. Obviously, that has to top out somewhere, but that expectation has served her well in first grade.

I imagine that most redshirted kids have an opposite trajectory. They see their initial advantage dwindle over the first few years of school, maybe start to expect to lose ground every year.

That said, my kid is AL-designated, while if we'd held her "back" last year she'd likely be HCC. I think we'd have chosen to keep her in her neighborhood school, anyway, but the option would be nice and might become important later.
Anonymous said…
@Damon-I'm not sure what grade your daughter is now, but you might consider testing her in 4th or 5th grade for the possibility of entering HCC in middle school. She would likely thrive and find that the perfect transition point.

Fix AL
Damon said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Damon said…
@Anon -- that's a good idea. After testing her four different times (?! and we didn't even do anything unusual like private testing) this year (1st), we've got a bit of test fatigue, but that'll be a distant memory by 4th.
Anonymous said…
You need to ask if you had held your daughter back, would she have thrived as much as by being in K? The "Youngest kid, Smartest kid" article touches on this point. The general idea is that young for grade students learn to work harder, which helps them excel, more so than if they just coasted along (kind of the same idea behind accelerated learning opportunities).

Our late summer Bday child has few regrets about being the youngest and now can't imagine being back a year in high school. When weighing our options, we reasoned if K ended up being a poor fit, it would be logistically easier to deal with that rather than wait a year and look at the prospect of trying to then skip to first grade.

You know your child best. I'm guessing most parents are ultimately happy with the choice for their child as they made the decision based on their own knowledge of their child and their gut parent instinct. We have family members equally happy with their decision to start their summer Bday children a year later (boys and girls).

Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
I second that emotion.

Advantage Seekers
Anonymous said…
@advantage seekers--- In our son's case it was not to "seek an advantage". The school psychologist and K teacher advised us to so preschool another year after we had already enrolled the child in K and the child had attended for a month. I will reiterate if our child had been born one day later would have been in next grade, so maybe we don't really fit this "redhsirt" demographic exactly. In addition, we think this also made it harder (not easier) qualify for HCC, as our child was age normed against kids nationwide who were a grade ahead in school.
Anonymous said…
If the shoe fits, wear it.

If not, next....(as in, why are you replyin'?)

Advantange Seekers
I think this thread has gone its course since some have to be unpleasant for really no reason but that they can.

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