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A study published in the Journal of Human Resources finds reason to challenge the growing trend toward holding kids out of kindergarten until they’re older.
Darren Lubotsky, co-author of the study, says the findings show older kindergartners fare better academically largely because they learn more before starting school, not because age improves aptitude.
Older students show higher test scores than younger peers during the first few months of kindergarten. However, their edge soon fades, and nearly vanishes by eighth grade.
“If it were true that older kids are able to learn at a faster rate, then the differences in test scores should get bigger as kids progress and the material gets more difficult. But we really see the opposite,” says Lubotsky, a University of Illinois economics professor.
This study counters decades of research linking age to academic achievement which has led states to push back kindergarten entrance age deadlines, as well as convincing parents that age five is too soon to start school. In 2005, nearly 21 percent of 5-year-olds were not yet enrolled in kindergarten; in 1980 the number was less than 10 percent.
The study maintains that even though later starters have an early edge based on an extra year of skill development, older and younger students learn at the same pace once they enter school. Where older students scored 24 percentage points higher than younger in kindergarten, by eighth grade the gap had narrowed to less than 4 percentage points.
Based on the findings, Lubotsky feels parents and lawmakers need to weigh costs and benefits as they consider the issue.
In addition, while older kids may do better at first, there’s a tradeoff: they’re also a year in school behind other kids their own age.
“At the end of the line, somehow that year will catch up with them,” says Lubotsky. “They start work a year later, and parents have an extra year of child-care costs if they delay. So it’s not free.”
While younger students tend to score higher on tests when they have older classmates, the study also found that having older classmates makes it more likely that younger peers will be held back or diagnosed with learning disorders.
“What we think is going on is that teachers are comparing younger kids to older classmates and the younger kids tend to stand out,” Lubotsky says. “They stand out either as not doing well or they tend to stand out as being more hyperactive.”
He continues, “The thing is schools are making profound decisions based on these differences — differences that tend to fade away.”
Follow-up research is needed, and planned, to determine what happens in later years.
Lubotsky does insist that parents still need to weigh an individual child’s needs, of course: maturity, ability to focus or other issues. But, “kids get so much more out of learning,” he feels. “Whether they go to school earlier or later, that’s really not going to matter much at the end of the day.”
source: found online at www.sciencedaily, adapted from materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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