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Issues In Educational Research, Vol 15, 2005
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Academic redshirting: Does withholding a child from school entrance for one year increase academic success

Cathleen March
D'Youville College, USA
This study examined scores on second, third and fourth grade reading and mathematics tests to determine the effects of beginning school age on later school success. The analysis involved 352 participants in one rural school district in Western New York. Participants were divided into three groups: (a) age appropriate for entrance to school, (b) young for entrance to school and (c) delayed from entrance to school. Differences among the age groups and between the genders were investigated. No statistically significant differences were noted among the three age groups or between the genders on either the reading or mathematics achievement measures.


This study investigated the effects of age at entrance to kindergarten and gender on academic success in reading and mathematics in grades 2, 3, and 4. A central purpose of the investigation was to examine the effects of parents intentionally withholding their age-appropriate child from kindergarten entrance to allow him or her an additional year to gain cognitive, social, physical and behavioral maturity - a practice termed academic redshirting.

The issue of what constitutes an optimal kindergarten or school readiness program has been an educational conundrum for many years. When kindergarten was introduced into the public schools, play was advocated as the basis of the curricula. Lessons, recitations and concentration on numerical and literacy readiness were introduced later in a child's academic career (Spodek, 1988). Gradually, however, a more demanding and academically oriented curricula pushed downward into the primary grades and direct instruction in reading and mathematics became an important part of the day in many kindergarten classrooms (Uphoff & Gilmore, 1986).

Several school districts today report a more structured kindergarten program that centers on specific academic objectives and emulates what once was a grade one focus. Studies by Shepard (1997), Karweit (1988), and Shepard and Smith (1988) suggest that this rigidity of curricular demands may pronounce an unfair sentence upon the youngsters who are immature for the grade - those children who enter kindergarten with little exposure to academics, school procedures and prerequisite skills such as letter and number recognition (Rayforth & Carey, 1995).

Many state representatives at a 1989 Wingspread Conference on Kindergarten reported that the practice of delaying school entrance was a significant phenomenon embraced by middle class parents who withheld their children from school for one year to ensure a maturity level that would help their children succeed academically (Smith, 1997).

The academic demands being placed upon kindergarten children have raised a major concern that not all five year old youngsters are, in fact, ready to begin school (Uphoff & Gilmore, 1986). Using age as the sole requirement for admittance to public education does not address the extensive variation in abilities of the new entrants (Karwait, 1988). Some children enter school able to read while others cannot listen adequately to a story. The fortunate ones who have enjoyed activities with books, paper, pencil, and scissors join with those who must be taught the most rudimentary of emerging literacy skills (March, 1998).

Change can occur in a very short time - those less able at entrance can often meet academic demands within a short time period and can catch up and even surpass children who were advanced in the beginning. According to Bickel, Zigmond, and Strayhorn (1991), predicting who will succeed and who will struggle cannot be accurately accomplished by age restrictions alone. Brednekamp and Shepard (1989) maintain that programs must be designed to attend to the diversity four and five year old children bring to the school setting rather than punishing those who do not keep up with the more academically mature. Instructional needs have changed and adjustments such as individualisation and incorporating multiage techniques may need to be put into place to ensure that all children meet with success. An emphasis on adapting curricula for the needs of the child is reflected in a position paper of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. NAEYC advocates the use of developmentally appropriate curricula to address the concerns of young children so they may learn by active, manipulative, and meaningful means rather than by symbolic, abstract methods (Bickel, Zigmond, & Strayhorn, 1991). Despite rhetoric regarding the need to address individual differences, most kindergarten classes adhere to a rigid set of standards that are embedded into an undifferentiated curriculum (Durkin, 1987, Nielsen, 1996). The problem appears to be that, while the children vary, the curriculum remains inflexible (Shepard & Smith, 1988).

The practice of withholding a child from school in the hope that an extra year will increase educational opportunities adds to this concern as this tactic increases the age span even further, thus exacerbating the variation in children entering school (March, 1998). Some researchers have reported that the preponderance of redshirted children is comprised of males with "late birth dates" (DeMeis & Stearns, 1992; Langer, Kalk, & Searls, 1984).

Belissimo, Sacks and Mergendoller (1995) found that parents who withheld their children from kindergarten had concerns with classroom expectations, academic skills and the possibility that kindergarten might be a confrontational experience for their children. May, Kundert, and Brent (1995) suggest that some educators recommend a delay of school entrance based upon a child's performance on readiness testing procedure, a practice that is questioned by some early childhood experts. Citing many pieces of research, including her own, Shepard (1997) argues that while the practice of redshirting is supposed to make kindergarten classrooms more homogeneous, instead it creates a more heterogeneous setting, thus making instruction designed to meet individual needs more difficult.

Maturational concerns for achievement have caused a trend for some states and local districts to increase age requirements for school entrance. Brednekamp and Shepard (1989) caution that raising the entrance age in school districts establishes an academic environment that divides the advantaged children from the disadvantaged children. They warn policy makers that changing the entrance age creates an inequity: what appears to be a minor adjustment - raising the entrance age by three months- actually denies public education for one year to one-fourth of previously age-eligible children. The impact on upper and middle class families may be relatively minor, since their children are likely to spend that year in a private preschool or in a home with a strong literary environment. The burden falls upon the low-income children, for whom preschool services are less widely available (Brednekamp & Shepard, 1989).

Acknowledging the diversity in ages, Freeman (1990) suggests that children should be accepted into school based upon chronological age whereby most kindergartners are five years old and most first graders are six. She further suggests that the curriculum should be adjusted accordingly. She concludes that denying children entry to school based upon reasons other than age has no apparent benefits.

To assure that their child is maximally prepared and has the best advantage, some parents have opted to delay their five-year-old's school entrance for a year, particularly if that child is a boy and turned five in the summer or autumn months (DeMeis, Joseph & Stearns, Eleanor, 1992; Crosser, 1998). It is precisely because an increasing number of parents are redshirting their children, especially their sons, that the research literature must provide clear answers to two basic issues:

  1. Do pupils who are redshirted obtain higher academic achievement than pupils who are currently age-appropriate for school entrance? (Associated questions about the effects of redshirting on affective, physical, and social performance need exploration as well, but this study focuses solely on academic performance.)

  2. If a body of well designed research finds that redshirting is beneficial academically (or in other ways) then further research will be needed to ascertain why. This study addresses only the first question. However, it is important to discuss the second question as a means of establishing the significance of this research study.

The importance of knowing if and how redshirting facilitates achievement

If it were the case that redshirting facilitated achievement (assumed here for the sake of argument), there would be two possible explanations for this that would both be important for forming policy regarding mandatory ages of entrance to school. One set of findings would demand that students enter school at an older age than is the current norm. The other set of findings would likely lead to banning redshirting altogether (March, 1998).
In the first case, suppose further research concludes that teachers (wittingly or unwittingly) step up the level of the curricular demands to meet the higher levels of cognitive and social maturity of redshirted students. That is, it is the change in curriculum that results in higher achievement; not simply that more mature redshirted students are mastering the traditional curriculum to a higher degree. This accelerated program may be appropriate for redshirted students, but it is not the redshirting itself that is causing the increased achievement, but rather the changes in the curriculum. A potentially significant and negative effect of this upgraded curriculum, however, might be to jeopardize the heretofore success levels of age-appropriate students because they do not have the cognitive and social maturity to meet these new and accelerated instructional and behavioral demands. In this scenario, redshirting affects only curriculum, and thus should be banned by state dictates.

In the second scenario, in which it is assumed (for the sake of argument) that redshirted pupils do achieve at higher levels than age-appropriate students, suppose further research found that curricula did not change significantly and age-appropriate pupils were not negatively impacted - but redshirted pupils simply learned more, more rapidly and better. In this second scenario, policy makers would be well advised to consider increasing the mandatory age of entrance to school (March, 1998).

It is necessary that more knowledge be gained about the impact of redshirting. If there is no academic effect, then parents need to reconsider holding their child out of school for a year - especially given that redshirting is becoming a more common practice in American schools (Shepard & Smith, 1988). If redshirting does lead to higher academic achievement, then such a finding would provide a basis for further research, research that would be extremely important in terms of understanding the effects of redshirting, informing parents about the value of redshirting, and in forming policy for mandatory age requirements for admission to school. The purpose of the present study was to determine if redshirting does affect reading and mathematics achievement in grades 2, 3, and 4.

Research on effects of age of entrance to school on academic achievement

Three separate groups of students were compared in this study. One group consisted of children who were purposefully and willingly withheld from school for one full year by parental consent as determined by parental interviews at prekindergarten testing time in May of the year of school entrance, a second group of students who entered school at the appropriate age (age-appropriate); and a third group who entered school early, although meeting the entrance age criteria set forth by New York State law (young group).

The review of the extant research on the association of age of entrance to school and achievement found few studies that identified pupils who were purposefully redshirted. Although Shepard and Smith (1988) discuss the redshirting factor and decry its increase, most studies that have examined age differences have compared younger students to older students within age ranges typical for a given grade (i.e., these studies did not control for the age differences within the participating groups nor did the studies fully explain the variations in age that they did report). In the present study, the age-appropriate and younger groups are equivalent to older and younger students of past studies. This study differs significantly, however, in that it includes a third group, the redshirted students.

Some studies have found that older students achieved at a higher rate than their younger cohorts and maintained that academic advantage throughout the years of schooling (Davis, Trimble, & Vincent, 1980; Uphoff & Gilmore, 1986). Other studies found that the achievement of older children was greater than younger children's academic success in the primary grades, but those differences disappeared over time (Miller & Norris, 1967; Langer, Kalk and Searles, 1984; Karweit, 1988). A third group of studies found that older and younger students achieve at the same rate throughout the years of schooling (Dietz & Wilson, 1985; Bickel, Zigmond, & Strayhorn, 1991; Noonan & Hildebrand, 1997).

Bickel, Zigmond, and Strayhorn (1991) state that some studies often fail to control for social, demographic, or age variables. This is important and must be reported in the research literature, as redshirted students are often a product of academically-oriented parents who consider age an advantage in school success (Shepard & Smith, 1989). If socioeconomic status or advanced literacy backgrounds are not considered, age of entrance to school may be mistakenly deemed to be the cause of achievement differences that are actually due to preschool experience or other environmental issues. Examination of age effects needs to continue to determine if academic achievement is influenced by age factors alone, and if delaying school entrance is justified for that reason.



The participants in this study were 352 students from the only two elementary schools in a single, rural, school district in Western New York. Each participant had begun kindergarten in either of these schools in the fall of 1988, 1989, or 1990 and had remained in these schools to the completion of grade 4 (1993, 1994, or 1995).

The birth dates of all participants in the study were recorded. Student numbers were assigned to preserve anonymity. Criteria for inclusion in this natural experiment required subjects to have had an uninterrupted school career in the district from kindergarten to grade 4. Implicit in their inclusion was that no handicapping conditions were identified by the Committee on Special Education other than recognition of a speech difficulty that allowed inclusion in regular classrooms.

The 352 participants for whom there were complete reading data were divided into the three age groups. The first group consisted of 260 children (134 males and 126 females) who attained the age of five between December 1 and August 31 of the year of entrance to school (ie, they were between 5 years and 5 years 8 months when entering kindergarten. This group was identified as the "age appropriate group." The second group included 60 children (28 males and 32 females) who attained the age of five between September 1 and November 31 of the year of school entrance (i.e., they were 4 years 9 months to 4 years 11 months at entrance). This group was identified as the "young group." The third group of children were those who entered kindergarten at least one year later than New York State law deemed eligible for entrance to public school (i.e., they were 5 years 9 months or older upon school entrance) Although their entrance was delayed, the date of their entry conformed to New York State law which mandates that once a child reaches the age of seven, he or she must attend school. This group was comprised of 32 children (23 males and 9 females) who entered kindergarten older than 5 years 8 months. This group was identified as the "academically redshirted group."

Socioeconomic status, which has been shown to have an impact upon academic achievement (Dunkin & Biddle, 1974), was determined from the Basic Education Data Form (1988-1993). New York State requires that socioeconomic status be stated as indicated by the number of pupils whose family's primary means of support is a public welfare program. This socioeconomic figure is reported to the state in percentile bands to indicate the percentage of pupils who fall into a "low socioeconomic classification." The approximate percentages of pupils in these schools who were members of families whose primary means of support was a public welfare program ranged from 21% - 30% to 40% - 50%, depending upon the school year and the year of the data collection. These reported figures were observed from 1988 to 1994, the years that encompassed the study. Head of household employment included farming, factory work, skilled and unskilled work, professional work as well as those on welfare assistance.

Attendance, another variable that has an impact upon school success (Harris & Sipay, 1990), ranged from 95.5% to 97.6% for the duration of the study. This reflects a higher rate of attendance than the average state attendance rates in 1989 for all public schools (91.1% and for all school districts excluding the five largest districts (94.4%) (New York State Education Department, 1996).

Reading achievement was measured over time to determine if differences existed between the groups in grades 2, 3, and 4. All 352 participants were included in the data collection on the reading variable. The age-appropriate group for the reading variable consisted of 260 children (134 males and 126 females), the young group included 60 students (28 males and 32 females) and the redshirted group was composed of 32 students (23 males and 9 females). (See Table 1.)

Achievement in mathematics was viewed in the same fashion, but School Two tested only "at risk" students on this variable. Thus, complete mathematics achievement data were available only for school One (N = 196). The age-appropriate group for the mathematics variable consisted of 145 children (78 males and 67 females), the young group included 34 students (19 males and 15 females) and the redshirted group was composed of 17 students (12 males and 5 females). (See Table 2.)

Table 1: Participants by school, age and gender: Reading variable

School 1 677815190512
School 2 595617090411
Total 12613432280923

Table 2: Subjects by age and gender: Mathematics variable

School 1 677815190512
School 2

Total 677815190512


Before analysing the reading achievement data collected for this study, a preliminary analysis was conducted to determine if the average reading scores of the two schools differed significantly. No such contrast was required for the mathematics data, as mathematics scores were available from only one school. Table 3 displays the mean reading scores and standard deviations for each grade from each school.

Table 3: Mean reading scores and standard deviations for the two schools in the study

SchoolGrade 2Grade 3Grade 4
School 1ms = 56.68
sd = (17.9)
ms = 61.14
sd = (20.6)
ms = 63.59
sd = (18.9)
School 2ms = 59.98
sd = (19.8)
ms = 60.68
sd = (22.3)
ms = 64.95
sd = (18.9)

Data from the reading variable were analysed using three univariate one-way analyses of variance, one for each grade represented in the study, to discern if significant differences in reading existed between the two schools. No significant differences were found between School 1 and School 2 at any of the three grades: grade 2 F (1, 350) = 3.80, p <.05; grade 3 F (1, 350) = .009, p <.93; grade 4 F (1, 350) = .30, p < .58. Because there were no statistically significant differences between the two participating schools in reading at any of the grades, the data for the two school districts were combined and analysed as a whole.

Reading achievement: Findings

The Degrees of Reading Power (1988), a test that meets conventional standards for validity and reliability, was used to measure reading achievement in grades 2, 3, and 4. Scores from the Degrees of Reading Power test were collected from permanent record cards for each of the participants and converted from percentile ranks to normal curve equivalent (N.C.E.) scores to facilitate data manipulation and comparison.

The data for this portion of the study were analyzed using a 2 x 3 x 3 Analysis of Variance with repeated measures on the third factor. Means and Standard Deviations can be viewed in Table 4.

Table 4: Mean reading scores and standard deviations of young for grade,
age appropriate and academically redshirted students

Grade 2Grade 3Grade 4
Mean YG group
Standard deviation YG
Variance YG
Mean A.A group
Standard deviation AA
Variance AA
Mean AR group
Standard deviation AR
Variance AR

The first of the three factors was gender (males and females); the second factor was age group (age appropriate, young for grade, and academically redshirted). The third factor was grade (grade 2, grade 3, and grade 4). There was no significant difference between the reading achievement scores of males and females and gender did not interact significantly with either of the other factors. There was no significant three-way interaction. There was, however, a significant group x grade two-way interaction. This interaction, demonstrated in Figure 1, shows a constant increase in group NCE scores on the DRP from grade 2 to 3 to 4 for the AA and AR groups, but for the young group, both third and fourth grade scores are higher than grade 2 scores, but grade 3 scores are higher than grade 4 scores.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Reading by group means

Table 5: Summary of 2 x 3 x 3 analysis of variance of reading achievement scores

Source of variationdfSSMSFp
Gender1 236.38236.38.24.63
Age Group2 3898.861449.4331.47.23
Gender x Age Group2 814.46407.23.41.66
Error Within346 341481.86986.94

Grade2 2327.341163.6713.29.00
Gender x Grade2 225.93112.971.29.28
Group x Grade4 1426.10356.524.07.00
Gender x Group x Grade4 632.02158.001.80.13
Error Between692 60580.2587.54

Academically redshirted participants did not achieve significantly better than age appropriate students in reading at any grade. The redshirted participants did not achieve significantly better in reading than younger students in grades 2 and 3, although in grade 4 their scores were significantly higher than those young for grade. The lack of significant effects of redshirting on reading achievement calls into question the validity of this practice, at least in terms of reading achievement. The main effects of grade, with the means of all three groups averaged at each grade level for the reading variable, suggested that grade 3 mean scores were significantly higher than those of grade 2 and grade 4 mean scores were significantly higher than those of grade 3. This is an interesting finding as NCE scores would normally be expected to maintain themselves over time.

Simple effects were tested with one-way Analyses of Variance and Scheffe's tests. At grades 2 and 3 there were no significant differences between the three age groups F (1, 349) = 1.76, p <.17 for grade 2, and F (1,349) = .61, p < .54 for grade 3. At grade 4, however, the simple effects test was significant, F (1, 349) = 4.23, p < .015, indicating that there was a significant differences among young, age appropriate and redshirted participants. To find which of these differences was significant, a Scheffe test was conducted; only the difference between the young for grade and the academically redshirted group was significant.

The scatter indicated by the standard deviations (see Table 3) is yet another method of illustrating that factors other than age impacted upon the disparity in mean reading scores among the participant groups. The size of the standard deviations relative to the deviations between the groups suggest that the variation is due mainly to variation within the age groups rather than between the age groups (ie, there is substantially more variation within any given group than there is between groups.)

Mathematics achievement: Findings

The Stanford Achievement Test - Mathematics (1989), a test that meets conventional standards for validity and reliability, was used to measure mathematics achievement in grades 2, 3, and 4. Scores from this test were collected from permanent record cards for each of the participants and converted from percentile ranks to normal curve equivalent (NCE) scores to facilitate data manipulation and comparison.

The data for this portion of the study were analysed using a 2 x 3 x 3 Analysis of Variance with repeated measures on the third factor. Means and Standard Deviations can be seen in Table 6. Again, the first factor was gender (males and females), the second factor was age group (age appropriate, young for grade and academically redshirted), and the third factor was grade (grade 2, grade 3, and grade 4).

There was no significant difference between the mathematics achievement scores of males and females, and gender did not interact significantly with either of the other factors. There was no significant two-way interaction effect between group and grade nor was there a significant three-way interaction among gender, group, and grade.

All three age groups were indistinguishable from one another on the mathematics variable over the three year time span (see Figure 2). The lack of significant effects of redshirting on mathematics achievement suggests that the validity of this practice is in question in terms of mathematics achievement.

The main effects of grade, with the means of all three groups averaged at each grade level for the mathematics variable, suggested that grade 3 mean scores were significantly higher than those of grade 2 and grade 4 mean scores were significantly higher than those of grade 3. This is an interesting finding as NCE scores would normally be expected to maintain themselves over time.

Table 6: Mean mathematics scores of young for grade, age appropriate
and academically redshirted students

GroupGrade 2Grade 3Grade 4
Mean YG group
Standard deviation YG
Variance YG
Mean AA group
Standard deviation AA
Variance AA
Mean AR group
Standard deviation AR
Variance AR

Need for further research

This study was representative of a specific school district. The findings must not be considered out of context. Results may be applicable only to the school district represented in the data and to rural school districts with a similar socioeconomic grouping in a similar geographical setting. A significant limitation of this study is that the only dependent variables were reading and mathematics-both cognitive variables. The effects of age-in-grade or physical, social, attitudinal, or other affective traits were not studied. Although the reading and mathematics scores of redshirted youngsters were not statistically significantly higher than the scores of age-appropriate students, the scores were, over the three grades, consistently higher for the redshirted pupils. It is legitimate to ask if these slightly higher, but not significantly higher, academic scores that

Figure 2

Figure 2: Mathematics by group means

Table 7: Summary of 2 x 3 x 3 analysis of variance of mathematics achievement scores

Source of variationdfSSMSFp
Gender1 115.19115.19.13.719
Age Group2 3666.471833.232.06130
Gender x Age Group2 2336.601168.301.32.271
Error Within190 168728.24888.04

Grade2 8953.8114476.9042.69.000
Gender x Grade2 271.75135.871.30.275
Group x Grade4 7.8516.96.16.958
Gender x Group x Grade4 314.5978.65.75.559
Error Between380 39852.26104.87

could result in higher academic status within the classroom might also result in higher self-esteem, confidence, and a more positive attitude toward school. Given that a student's attitude toward reading and his or her concept of himself or herself as a reader are known to be associated with within-classroom status as a reader (Kibby, 1997), these questions need further research.

For well over sixty years the question of what constitutes an appropriate age for entrance to kindergarten has been a question that has puzzled researchers. The research literature is conflicting in nature with some purporting that older students have an age advantage, others argue that an age advantage in the early grades dissipates in later grades, while yet a third group of studies concludes that age differences do not affect achievement at all (May, Kundert, & Brent, 1995). Parents and educators alike should seek the best learning environment for children. If age at entrance to school does indeed offer an academic advantage in some educational settings, schools should be aware of these issues. More study of age related issues regarding kindergarten entrance is needed in various school settings to determine if age at entrance to school is a predictor of actual or perceived school success.

Researchers have pointed out that the trend for withholding children from school is rising but that there may be unintended negative consequences (iatrogenic effects) of keeping a child out of school an additional year that have not been examined with sufficient care. Proponents of older entry ages note that elementary school curricula have changed in recent years, becoming enmeshed in the descending academic spiral of "higher standards," and with accountability and increased academic expectations making higher demands upon young learners. Further exploration is needed to discern if withholding a child from school does indeed create an educational environment that allows for higher achievement by nature of an age advantage.

Schools in the United States place the entry requirement for kindergarten entrance at about five years. The emphasis on age prerequisites obscures the fact that maturation is one of many factors that have impact upon academic development. Variation occurs within groups of children regardless of age. Background experiences and life at home and in the community impact upon school achievement. Children who are of identical chronological age may show remarkable differences in academic success.

The makeup of children placed in alternative educational settings should be explored. Further study is needed to discern who is chosen for this type of instruction and to discover if age biases influence the selection. Questions to be investigated include: (a) does the special education population reflect a disproportionate number of students who began school younger than many of their peers? and (b) does chronological age affect academic achievement in special education classes?

Curricular concerns may be another result of redshirting children for a year. As the kindergarten group grows older through withholding some children from entrance to school, the focus of instruction typically shifts upward in a response to the needs of the older students. This may place the youngest children in a curriculum that has increased in demands to meet the needs of the older cohorts. Although not statistically significant, the differences among the groups on both the reading and the mathematics variables in this study placed the youngest children at the lowest end of achievement in nearly all situations. The impact of having class peers achieving at a higher rate of success may have implications for social and emotional issues that have not been addressed in this study (March, 1998).

This study suggests a need for qualitative research that questions parental satisfaction of the redshirted population. Averages of reading scores placed the redshirted group consistently higher, but not at a statistically significant higher level than the two other age groups. Although these differences were not significant at the .05 level, if being among the higher achievers in the class was the desired outcome of parents of the redshirted children, it was met in the population in this study.


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Author: Dr Cathleen March is an assistant professor in the education department at D'Youville College in Buffalo, NY. She has spent over two decades employed by New York State public schools as a classroom teacher and as a reading specialist. Email: cathymarch@adelphia.net

Please cite as: March, C. (2005). Academic redshirting: Does withholding a child from school entrance for one year increase academic success. Issues In Educational Research, 15(1), 69-85. http://www.iier.org.au/iier15/march.html

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