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University of Missouri

Beginning Again

Youngest kindergartners are more likely to be held back.

Illustration by Blake Dinsdale.

Illustration by Blake Dinsdale.

Parents of 5‐year‐olds know it as the “begindergarten dilemma”: whether to enroll your child in kindergarten as soon as he or she is eligible or delay enrollment by a year. Parents weigh the difference between another costly year of day care versus a perceived academic disadvantage that the youngest students in the classroom are more likely to encounter.

Among the possible disadvantages is that the youngest kindergartners are about five times more likely to be retained, or held back, compared to the oldest students, resulting in higher costs for parents and school districts, says Francis Huang, assistant professor in the College of Education.

Research on retention has been somewhat more consistent in suggesting that holding children back a year is not the most effective practice,” Huang says. “Requiring children to repeat a grade is not only expensive for parents and school districts, but it also can affect children’s self‐esteem and their ability to adjust in the future.”

Although anxious parents often wonder if their child is ready for kindergarten, the question should be: Is the school ready for the child? Teachers and schools should be flexible in handling the diverse set of abilities and skills that children of different backgrounds have.

Because older kindergarteners can have as much as 20 percent more life experience than their younger classmates, teachers need to meet students where they are developmentally and adjust instructions based on a student’s ability,” Huang says. “Studies have shown that, while conceptually, teachers agree that they should be flexible in their teaching strategies, only a fraction of teachers actually modify classroom instruction to deal with a diverse set of students.”