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Starting Kindergarten Late

The pros and cons of waiting an extra year.

Does entering kindergarten late help some children do better in school? The answer isn't as simple as it sounds! Opinions -- and the results of several recent surveys -- are divided on that question.

One child in seven in the United States either entered kindergarten late or was required to repeat kindergarten, according to data from the 1993 and 1995 National Household Education Surveys. Since the 1970s, another report shows, the proportion of children who have delayed entering kindergarten has doubled, mainly because parents want to give them a competitive and social advantage.

How does entering kindergarten late or repeating the grade affect children's school performance? The 1993 and 1995 surveys found notable differences between the later school performance of students who were held out of kindergarten and students who repeated kindergarten.

The performance of first- and second-graders who were held out of kindergarten was better than that of first- and second-graders who entered kindergarten at the prescribed age.

On the other hand, children who had to repeat kindergarten were doing worse than other first- and second-graders.

Those are highlights from a statistical analysis report, titled "The Elementary School Performance and Adjustment of Children Who Enter Kindergarten Late or Repeat Kindergarten: Findings from National Surveys," published in November 1997 by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Most Dramatic Differences
Following are the areas in which the report shows students with delayed kindergarten entry differed most dramatically from students who entered on time:

  • First- and second-grade students in 1993 who had been kept out of kindergarten until they were older were less likely than other students to draw negative feedback from teachers about their academic performance or conduct in class.
  • In 1995 the delayed entry students were less like likely than students who started kindergarten on time to have repeated first or second grade.
  • First- and second-graders who were retained in kindergarten had more school performance problems than children who didn't repeat.
  • First- and second-graders in 1993 who had repeated kindergarten were more likely than children who had not repeated to receive negative feedback from their teachers.

Background Factors Have Impact
In the 1995 survey, controlling for demographic, socioeconomic, and development factors basically eliminated the differences between students who entered kindergarten late and other first- and second-graders. On the other hand, when those factors were taken into account in the 1993 survey, the differences in student school performance were reduced but remained significant.

No evidence was found in the surveys that children who may have been at heightened risk of having difficulties in school benefited from, or were hurt by, delayed kindergarten entry more than other children. Neither starting kindergarten late nor retention in kindergarten were shown to relate significantly to first- and second-grade school performance or adjustment.

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