Friday, January 27, 2012

More School Readiness Research

I mentioned in a previous post about my son starting kindergarten a year later due to his birthday. I even had a doctor recently tell me it's a wonderful thing because now he'll be the tallest, smartest and most advanced physically and developmentally over his classmates.  I've also had mom friends who intentionally start their kids a year later so their child can be "better" in those areas and be top of the class through their schooling years.  

Here are two articles citing studies on the subject.  Don't be'll feel smarter afterwards! :)

"Historically and currently, the main criterion for assessing school readiness has been age (Crnic & Lamberty, 1994). Prior to a specified age, children are generally considered to be ‘just playing’. In line with a maturational viewpoint, all children in Australia, regardless of experience, and to a large extent genetic make-up, are deemed ready to start school at the age of five years (or even 4 years 7 months in some states). This is the age when children are regarded as being ‘ready to learn’.

However, the range of school starting ages, even amongst Western countries demonstrates the complexity of these issues. 

In Britain and the Netherlands, like Australia, the school starting age is five years, in Germany it is six years, and in Sweden, Norway and Finland children often start school at seven years (Routley & de Lemos, 1993). 

The disparities between countries are indicative of differences in cultural beliefs about childhood and differences in the definition of what constitutes ‘readiness to learn’. The definition has been most widely considered and researched in the United States after the educational goals of the National Educational Goals Panel were announced in 1990. The first goal was that “by the year 2000 every child in America should start school ready to learn” (Boyer, 1991 p.5).

The results of this research has lead to a wider acceptance of the notion that children might be learning at an earlier age and that the people caring for them at this age are, in fact, educating them rather than ‘just minding’ them. This understanding has lead to paradoxical responses. 

On the one hand parents are calling for more structured learning (Garrett, 2001). For instance, they ask that long day care centres have pre-school programs with an emphasis on pre-reading and pre-numeracy skills to ensure that their children are ‘ready for school’ and are not falling behind in a knowledge acquisition race, which is starting ever younger. 

On the other hand, researchers and early childhood educators are recognising the importance of less structured aspects of early childhood learning on children’s readiness for school.

"Educators are commonly recommending that children born during the summer months be given an extra year to mature so that they will not suffer from the academic disadvantages of being among the youngest children in a class. Terms such as "academic red-shirting" and "graying of the kindergarten" have been invented to describe the practice and effects of holding children back from kindergarten (Bracey, 1989; Suro, 1992).
Small-scale studies of limited geographic areas suggest that delayed kindergarten entrance involves anywhere from 9% to 64% of the eligible kindergarten population (Meisels, 1992). However, data collected for the large-scale National Household Education Survey (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 1997) indicated that 9% of the first- and second-graders had been held back from kindergarten. Surveyed parents reported that children who had delayed kindergarten entrance 1 year were most likely to have been male (64%), white (73%), and born between July and December (70%). Compared to children born in the first quarter of the year, children born in the summer months were twice as likely to have delayed kindergarten entrance 1 year after they were first eligible.
Substantial numbers of parents and educators believe that children born in the summer months will gain an academic advantage if kindergarten entrance is delayed 1 year. Is it a disadvantage to be among the youngest, rather than the oldest, in a kindergarten class?

What Does the Research Reveal?

A review of the relevant literature reveals that few studies have been undertaken to examine whether or not children with summer birthdays do better academically when they postpone kindergarten entrance 1 year. Problems also arise because some of the research often cited in support of delayed entrance is poorly designed, has focused on children with learning disabilities or on early entrants, has relied on subjective parent or teacher reports, or has not looked specifically at children born during the summer months.
The related research is meager and somewhat contradictory. In general, studies indicate that the youngest children in a class may score slightly below the oldest children in a class, but any differences tend to be small and may be transitory (Morrison, Griffith, & Alberts, 1997; Cameron & Wilson, 1990; Kinard & Reinherz, 1986; Smith & Shepard, 1987; NCES, 1997).
The sparsity of evidence related specifically to summer-born children prompted an investigation comparing the academic achievement of two groups of children born in June, July, August, or September: those who entered kindergarten just after turning 5 and those who were held out 1 year and entered kindergarten at age 6 (Crosser, 1991). Each child who delayed entrance was matched with a child of like intelligence who had not delayed entrance. Boys were matched with boys, and girls with girls.
All of the children took standardized achievement tests during fifth or sixth grade. Those test scores were used to compare the achievement of summer-born, held-out children to that of summer-born children who had entered school on time.
Results of the study indicated that, given similar levels of intelligence, boys with summer birth dates tended to be advantaged academically by postponing kindergarten entrance 1 year. That advantage was greatest in the area of reading. Reading scores for females and math scores for both males and females did not show significant statistical differences.
Results of such small-scale studies need to be replicated before educators will be able to make informed recommendations about optimum kindergarten entrance age. There is no clear-cut evidence that delaying kindergarten for the youngest entrants will provide some magical academic advantage. Because there is so little entrance age evidence, and because some of that evidence is conflicting, there does not appear to be a strong academic basis for delaying kindergarten entrance for summer-born children.
A responsible physician would not recommend any treatment that had not been scientifically tested and retested for effectiveness. She would need to know the specific symptoms for which the treatment was effective. She would need to know the success rate of the treatment and what complicating side effects and interactions were possible before prescribing the treatment.
Responsible educators also have a need to know the facts before recommending treatment for a child whose only symptoms are being born in July and being male. Nevertheless, the reality is that both teachers and parents are accepting the idea that delaying school entrance for summer birth date children is sound practice.

How Does Holding out Affect the Kindergarten Experience?

It has been reported that affluent parents tend to hold out their summer-born children more often than do low socioeconomic status parents (Meisels, 1992). If that is the case, then children who may be at academic risk from factors associated with poverty face the additional hurdle of being compared to advantaged children who are 12 to 15 months older. We should expect that the economically disadvantaged children may be outperformed by their classmates who are both chronologically and developmentally their seniors.
In the real-life kindergarten classroom, the youngest children may appear to be immature and unready to tackle the tasks that their significantly older classmates find challenging and intriguing. As the curriculum and academic expectations increase to meet the needs of the 6-year-old children, there is a real danger that the kindergarten program will become developmentally inappropriate for the very young children it is meant to serve."


  1. Interesting post. Our grandson was living with us at the time he entered school (late September birthday) and we held him back until he was six (almost seven) before starting first grade. He entered Kindergarten just before his sixth birthday. Looking back, it was the right thing to do, although he will be nearly 19 when he graduates. Glad I found you on the Comment Challenge list. I'd like to follow your blog if you don't mind.

  2. Interesting info Michelle, thanks for sharing. I'd love to talk with you more about it. Mr. N's birthday is in August and our stance on it has always been that we would like him to start when he turns 5, but we will have to see if he is ready. I have heard so much research about waiting and we of course have our reasons for leaning towards the early start. But in the end it really will be a question of seeing where he is and if we feel he is ready academically, socially, etc. My husband began kindergarten a couple of weeks after he turned 5 and it really worked for him. There are others where it does not.

  3. Michelle. You've got to read the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. I'm about halfway through it. It's indirectly tied to education. This post reminded me of it. Anyway. It's an easy, quick read and I'm pretty sure you'd like it. Also, I miss your classes!