Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Is Delayed School Entry Harmful for Children with Disabilities? Evidence from North Carolina

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 9:30 AM
Brickell South (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

C. Kevin Fortner, Georgia State University and Jade Marcus Jenkins, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
In recent years, there are an increasing number of parents who choose to delay their child’s entry into kindergarten, otherwise referred to as “redshirting”.  In addition, several states increased the age cutoffs for kindergarten entry requiring that children are at least five years old at the start of their kindergarten school year. Influencing these decisions is some early evidence of the positive effects from entering school at an older age, and marked increases in educational accountability. However research on the effects of age at school entry is equivocal, including evidence that delaying entry to school may be detrimental for children, especially for at-risk populations.  Indeed, there exists a strong empirical basis for early educational interventions for impoverished children and children with special needs (Yoshikawa et al., 2013).

In a prior study of the effects of delayed kindergarten entry we found that redshirted students were overwhelmingly more likely to be designated by their school as having a disability - up to 2.8 times the risk of being designated as disabled.  Furthermore, students who were both redshirted and disabled were associated with significantly lower math and reading achievement (0.2 SD) at the end of 3rd grade compared with disabled children who entered kindergarten on time.  In this study, we use recent (2006-2014) statewide micro-level census data from NC, including student’s exact birthdates and information from kindergarten through 3rd grade to examine differences in the incidence and type of disability designations amongst children who enter kindergarten on time and those are redshirted, and test for differences in student achievement on reading and mathematics exams at the end of 3rd grade by disability designation.  North Carolina public schools use ten specific disability designations: Autism Spectrum disorders, Deaf-Blind, Deaf & Hard of Hearing, Emotional, Intellectual, Significant Cognitive, Specific Learning, Speech-Language Impairments, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Visual Impairments.  We will also estimate selection models to test whether parents’ decisions to delay their child’s entry into kindergarten is associated with the type or severity of children’s later designated disability.  We include student, classroom, and school-level covariates, along with district-level fixed effects to account for differences in disability testing policies.

Our study has several important policy implications. First, this study will examine whether test score outcomes for disabled redshirting students vary substantially across categories of disability. If certain disability categories are more negatively related to third grade outcomes, these findings could facilitate targeted dissemination of the negative effects of redshirting and the importance of on-time school enrollment for children within the categories of disability associated with diminished outcomes. Finally, this can help to inform state-level implementation of IDEA services.  Preliminary results indicate that children with disabilities are better off starting elementary school as soon as they are eligible and not spend an additional year “redshirted” outside the school setting.  Results also highlight the role of public schools in delivering services to children with disabilities.