Should Children be Held Back?

There is a growing trend to not enrol students who are very close to the ‘cut-off’ age until the following year. The general argument is that if they are enrolled as per the ‘cut-off’ criteria they will be the youngest child in the class and this will impede their educational progress.  In contrast, if they are not enrolled until the next year, they will be the oldest child in the class.

The following research by Morrison et al. (1997), although somewhat dated, is useful information in this decision making process. This was a USA study in which kindergarten was the first year of formal schooling. These researchers compared older kindergarteners and younger first graders (i.e., children who were similar in age as they fell on either side of the age ‘cut-off’ criteria). The older kindergarteners also included children who had been held back a year with the view that an extra year would give them a developmental advantage over younger children in the same grade. They also compared older and younger kindergarteners and older and younger first graders.

The children’s reading performance was assessed at the beginning and the end of the school year. They found that:

  • Older and younger first graders made similar progress with no advantage for later enrolment.
  • Younger first graders made significantly more progress than older kindergarteners, even though the two groups were similar in age.

Thus, time in school mattered more than age. Obviously, like all research, the results are averaged across the cohort and don’t take into account individual variations. However, generally, if children entering their first year of schooling have good oral language skills, including vocabulary and grammar, have a basic understanding of the concept that the written language represents the spoken language and can recognise a few words, like their own name or a common brand name, like Coke, and have the requisite social classroom skills, then delaying enrolment would appear to have few benefits.

Reference

Morrison, F., Alberts, D., & Griffith, E. (1997). Nature-nurture in the classroom. Entrance age, school readiness and learning in children. Developmental Psychology, 33, 254-262

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