To “redshirt” or not?

Ron French from The Bridge Magazine (Michigan’s 13,000 ‘redshirt’ kindergartners) has come out with a new study regarding the practice of “redshirting” kindergarteners, presumably because they were probably not ready for today’s modern kindergarten in the first place.

Our district does not engage in this practice although we will step up and recommend a child continue a second year of kindergarten if teachers and test results point to that being the best decision for the child.

However, I often wonder in this day and age of the “supercharged kindergarten” why more students are not either required to wait another year or enroll in a developmental program before regular kindergarten? After all, at the tender age of 5, even a 6-month difference in age represents a ten percent difference developmentally when simply measured by time. But children entering kindergarten can be as much as a year ahead or behind in age, so the developmental gaps can be profound.

We studied our state-mandated MEAP scores from this past fall’s testing and found that students born in the December through May time of the year tended to score better on the tests than those born in the latter half of the year. Again, students in this comparison can be anywhere from a day older or younger to a full year older or younger than their classmates. Here’s one chart that illustrates the gap in reading scores. As you can easily see, students born earlier consistently outscore on average those born later:

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Another revealing chart shows the gap between older and younger classmates scoring at the lowest proficiency level. A smaller percentage of students in the older group scored low (blue line) compared to younger students (red line):

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Interestingly, the pattern of an age-gap is present when comparing the three major race/ethnicity groups attending Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, as these next two charts illustrate. Again, the blue line represents the percentage of proficient students in each category born earlier than their classmates (red line):

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The chart below indicates the same gap for students achieving the lowest proficiency level, implying that more students scored higher if they were born in the first half of the year, i.e., older than their classmates.

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While this simple study is eye-opening, it’s not conclusive as other demographic factors could certainly be contributing to these gaps. But it does beg the question that if it makes sense to segregate students based on age at the start of kindergarten, why aren’t we doing more of it? And if it ultimately helps to provide a developmental year for the youngest students, shouldn’t this become a standard for all students (with exception of those that demonstrate kindergarten readiness socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually)? The fact cited by Mr. French that the gains don’t persist beyond 3rd grade just demonstrates that age and other demographics impacting learning may require specialized interventions all through school, not just at kindergarten.

Are we ready to have a discussion about what is best for kids or is The Bridge Magazine more interested in the pocketbook? That’s for each of us to decide.

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About David Britten

Retired U.S. Army Officer, former elementary, middle and high school principal, currently serving as a public school superintendent.
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One Response to To “redshirt” or not?

  1. Sara Dewey says:

    Well said!!!

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