New study on ‘redshirting’: delaying children’s school entry linked to poor academic performance

We have known the relative age effect for quite a while and as a reaction some parents chose for the option “redshirting“, holding children back a year if they were born prematurely or in the summer months. The parents who chose this argue their child will not be mature enough to start school and previous research has suggested children who are born more than three weeks before their due date would benefit from starting school a year later than those who were born at full-term. There is also research suggesting that redshirting could benefit children in the first years at school.

Still, this new study tells a different story, the paper published in the Journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology contradicts these findings and claims starting school a year later does not lead to better academic performance for pre-term or full-term children and could in fact cause poorer academic performance as the children get older. This is in line with other research suggesting a source of increased opportunity is school itself.

From the press release:

Corresponding author Professor Dieter Wolke, from the Department of Psychology and Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick, said: “Our study shows that delaying school entry has no effect on Year 1 teacher ratings of academic performance, but it is associated with poorer performance in age-standardised tests of reading, writing, mathematics and attention as the children get older.”

The research team used a natural experimental design to test their hypotheses as they could not carry out a randomised trial.

Professor Wolke said: “We obviously could not delay children starting school for the experiment, so we had to find a suitable study sample. We chose the Bavarian Longitudinal Study because Bavarian policy requires all children to be assessed by a community paediatrician three to 12 months before their school entry date to assess their readiness for school.”

At the time of assessment in Bavaria, all children reaching six years of age before 30 June started school the following September. The team studied 999 children, of which 472 were born preterm. These new findings are particularly applicable to preterm children who are born up to four months before their due date and may enter school less mature compared with their peers. The researchers compared teacher ratings of achievement in Year 1 and then looked at the results of standardised mathematics, reading, writing and attention tests when the children reached 8 years of age.

Co-author Julia Jaekel, from the Department of Developmental Psychology at the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, said many parents of pre-term children believed delaying school entry would be more beneficial.

Dr Jaekel said: “Many parents demand that preterm children should be held back, particularly if they were born in the summer. This is also supported by many charities supporting parents with preterm children.

“However, we found missing one year of learning opportunities was associated with poorer average performance in standardised tests at 8 years of age for both pre-term and full-term children. Future research is needed to determine the long-term effect of delayed school entry on academic achievement, but our results certainly give parents and educational providers food for thought.”

Abstract of the study:

Aim
Recent reports suggest that delayed school entry (DSE) may be beneficial for children with developmental delays. However, studies of the effects of DSE are inconclusive. This study investigated the effects of DSE versus age-appropriate school entry (ASE) on children’s academic achievement and attention in middle childhood.

Method
In total, 999 children (492 females, 507 males; 472 born preterm) were studied as part of a prospective population-based longitudinal study in Germany. Using a natural experimental design, propensity score matching was applied to create two matched groups who differed only in terms of DSE versus ASE. Teacher ratings of achievement in mathematics, reading, writing, and attention were obtained in Year 1, and standardized tests were administered at 8 years of age.

Results
There was no evidence of a difference in the odds of DSE versus ASE children being rated as above average by teachers in Year 1. In contrast, the standardized mean test scores for DSE children were lower than ASE children’s mean scores in all domains (mathematics: B=−0.28 [−0.51 to −0.06)], reading: B=−0.39 [−0.65 to −0.14], writing: B=−0.90 [−1.07 to −0.74], and attention: B=−0.58 [−0.79 to −0.36]).

Interpretation
DSE did not affect teacher-rated academic performance. However, missing 1 year of learning opportunities was associated with poorer average performance in standardized tests at 8 years of age. Future research is needed to determine the long-term effect of DSE on academic achievement.

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