Study finds only disadvantages for students who delay school entry or are older than their classmates

iStock_000001028732XSmallParents often see delayed entry in school as giving a child the opportunity to catch up to peers in development or even providing the child a competitive advantage over peers. But, educators should be leery of agreeing to delayed entry, according to a recent study in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

The study found that middle school and high school students who are markedly older than their cohorts (i.e. over the 12-month age range for their cohort) were at an academic disadvantage in motivation, engagement and performance compared to age-appropriate students. Surprisingly, it was the younger students in cohorts who seemed to fare the best, according to this study of 3,684 Australian students in grades 7-12 across 7 schools.

Older-for-cohort students were more disengaged, lower in homework completion, positive intentions and lower in performance scores. Younger-for-cohort students scored higher in valuing school, in positive intentions, school attendance, homework completion and performance.

“Taken together, these findings support the body of research reporting little or no academic advantage to being markedly older for cohort or delayed at school entry, ” writes researcher Andrew Martin from the University of Sydney. “Where age-within-cohort benefits are evident, they tend to reside with the younger-for-cohort and at-age-for-cohort students.”

Based on the findings, educators should recommend on-time entry for all mainstream students and provide students with interventions, if needed, the author writes. Other studies have looked at the effect of age-for-cohort in the elementary grades. This study focused on the effects on students in grades 7-12.

Rather than decrease heterogeneity in classrooms, delayed entry can increase it, causing even greater challenges for teachers and even students, since teachers often pitch lessons to older students, the author says. In schools that allow or encourage delayed entry and/or grade retention, the age range in classes can be as much as 2 years.

“Age Appropriateness and Motivation, Engagement, and Performance in High School: Effects of Age Within Cohort, Grade Retention, and Delayed School Entry,” by Andrew Martin, Journal of Educational Psychology, Volume 101, Number 1, 2009, pp. 101-114.

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