How Prevalent is “Academic Red-Shirting”?

Written by: Kurt Bauman, Chief, Education and Social Stratification Branch, U.S. Census Bureau

Census sports graphic College football fans are no doubt familiar with the term “red-shirting.” This practice occurs when a player participates in an academic year but not in that year’s sports season, extending his or her eligibility to play sports for another year. This usually happens during a player’s freshman year, giving them a chance to mature physically and become better adjusted to the academic rigors of school.

A similar phenomenon happens with young children: some families choose to wait until their kids are 6 years old to start kindergarten. This presumably ensures that they are mature enough, physically or academically, for school. These “academic red-shirts” make up a large number of children below modal grade, or the typical grade for people their age. For instance, the modal grade for 6-year-olds is first grade.

Percentage below modal grade, aged 6 to 9, 2008 Overall, in 2008, the majority of students ages 6 to 17 (65 percent) were enrolled at their modal grade, with 19 percent enrolled below modal grade and 16 percent enrolled above. There were large demographic differences, however, with boys more likely than girls to be below modal grade (22 percent compared with 16 percent).

Interestingly, foreign-born students were more likely than native-born to be enrolled below and above modal grade.

Enrollment below modal grade can occur because of late entry into school but also because of students repeating grades after entering school. Repeating a grade is most common at kindergarten, first grade and ninth grade.

For more details on modal grade enrollment, see our report School Enrollment in the United States: 2008.

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5 Responses to How Prevalent is “Academic Red-Shirting”?

  1. Jenny says:

    My son will be a “red-shirt” Kindergardener next year. He *could* enroll in Kindergarden this fall, however he will have JUST turned 5 at the end of September. This would have placed him youngest in his class. I know that for boys in general, and my boy specifically, having one more year before entering school will give him time to mature emotionally, socially, and physically to be better able to cope with the expectations of elementary school.
    Also, the Kindergarden teachers I’ve spoken to suggested, “When in doubt, keep them out.” Kindergarden teachers have enough to manage in their classrooms – some kids who were in full-time day care, some kids in part-time pre-school, and some staying home with parents. These teachers have to manage children of all types of backgrounds and readiness levels for school. I’m choosing to give my son one more year of maturity and pre-school preparation to get ready for the expectations of elementary school.

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  4. Joe K. says:

    Joe Sheehan and Rany Jazayerli mentioned “red-shirting” on their “Baseball Show” podcast, and it’s affect on high-schoolers in the Major League Baseball draft. They speculated that the average age of high school seniors being drafted is higher than it used to be, and that a team could gain an advantage by looking for the 17 year-old seniors who should have room for more growth than the almost-19 year-olds.

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