Redshirting has its origins in the world of collegiate sports and refers to postponing an athlete's participation in regular season games for one year with the hope of improving the player's skills for future seasons. Today, with politicians, administrators and parents looking for the "competitive edge" in the high stakes world of test scores, kindergarten has become the latest battleground in the education war.
In today's New York Times Magazine, an article by Elizabeth Weil, When Should a Kid Start Kindergarten? raises profound questions about what we, as a society are doing to four and five-year-olds in order to maximize standardized test scores:
That the social skills and exploration of one’s immediate world have been squeezed out of kindergarten is less the result of a pedagogical shift than of the accountability movement and the literal-minded reverse-engineering process it has brought to the schools. Curriculum planners no longer ask, What does a 5-year-old need? Instead they ask, If a student is to pass reading and math tests in third grade, what does that student need to be doing in the prior grades?
Whether kindergarten students actually need to be older is a question of readiness, a concept that itself raises the question: Ready for what? The skill set required to succeed in Fulgham’s kindergarten — openness, creativity — is well matched to the capabilities of most 5-year-olds but also substantially different from what Andersen’s students need. In early 2000, the National Center for Education Statistics assessed 22,000 kindergartners individually and found, in general, that yes, the older children are better prepared to start an academic kindergarten than the younger ones. The older kids are four times as likely to be reading, and two to three times as likely to be able to decipher two-digit numerals. Twice as many older kids have the advanced fine motor skills necessary for writing. The older kids also have important noncognitive advantages, like being more persistent and more socially adept. Nonetheless, child advocacy groups say it’s the schools’ responsibility to be ready for the children, no matter their age, not the children’s to be prepared for the advanced curriculum. In a report on kindergarten, the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education wrote, “Most of the questionable entry and placement practices that have emerged in recent years have their genesis in concerns over children’s capacities to cope with the increasingly inappropriate curriculum in kindergarten.”
If higher test scores are the primary aim and purpose of education then redshirting will continue to be used as a "cheap" and easy way to get a small bump in test scores. As Weil points out in her article, governors are racing to change their cutoff dates for kindergarten as a way to make their states look better on the national report card.
Indeed, increasing the average age of the children in a kindergarten class is a cheap and easy way to get a small bump in test scores, because older children perform better, and states’ desires for relative advantage is written into their policy briefs. The California Performance Review, commissioned by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004, suggested moving California’s birthday cutoff three months earlier, to Sept. 1 from Dec. 2, noting that “38 states, including Florida and Texas, have kindergarten entry dates prior to California’s.” Maryland’s proposal to move its date mentioned that “the change . . . will align the ‘cutoff’ date with most of the other states in the country.”
Don't let your state be left behind!