Murphy’s Law

Murphy’s Law

In residency, Murphy’s Law was captured daily – in the diagnosis of a progressed neuroblastoma in a thriving infant with an attentive family; in the discovery of a rare congenital disorder in a baby born to two healthy parents; in the brutal progression of meningitis in a child who should have defeated the disease. Murphy’s Law – ‘that which will go wrong, will go wrong’ is perfectly in line with the definition of irony – a series of events or circumstance that is almost deliberately contrary to what was expected to result. Irony, at its finest, either makes us laugh or cry – and often times perhaps both.

The whole point of my blog is to demonstrate the vast areas of grey present in “expert” opinion. I love to write about controversial subjects and explore the extreme points of view, and then outline a more inclusive opinion on the matter. But, in classic depiction of the irony of Murphy’s Law, I now present a counterpoint to one of my previous blogs.

A couple weeks ago I penned ‘Delaying Kindergarten Entry’ about the trend to hold kids back in school to allow both sports and academic subjects to come more easily to a more mature student. I spoke of challenging our kids, encouraging them to face disadvantage in whatever form head-on, to allow their character and sense of self to develop in the face of some adversity – whether on a soccer field or in the classroom. I still believe in the absolute merit of this, but as is typical of theory, an individual’s reality often begs reconsideration.

I received a call last week from my son’s elementary school guidance counselor to report that my son’s performance on the STARR test (and MAPs district testing) had fallen markedly this past year. In both 2nd and 3rd grade, the testing reflected impressive growth, from a kid who perhaps started behind the curve – younger and with no preschool preparatory work. He was growing at twice the rate of his peers per these tests, and was solidly above district average in 3rd grade. Unfortunately, in 4th, he fell behind. Although technically promoted to 5th grade, this objective measure demonstrated clear struggle. We moved quickly. We underwent educational testing to determine if we had missed a “mild” case of dyslexia or other learning difference, to see if perhaps an attention deficit disorder was to blame. Two days and 5 hours of testing later, we learned that he simply appeared maturationally behind the majority of his peers. Per expert analysis, his testing behavior and results seemed “young” for a student entering 5th grade. He would joke with the test administrator when the questions became complex. He would turn his focus away when deeper thought was required. He took his time to answer her questions. Was he processing slowly, was he disengaged, was he developing a comedic defense mechanism to hide his uncertainty of the answer? After extensive discussion with a very knowledgeable psychologist and after review of his test results, the conclusion was reached — he could really benefit from a repeat 4th grade year. Rather than starting the year at a disadvantage, this would give him the opportunity to be on par with his peers from the start. This is his “mulligan”, as my husband calls it.

Wow. I am suddenly on the other side of the fence. Should we have held him back from the beginning? In light of this new development, would “redshirting” have been the right choice for our son? As detailed in my previous blog, most of the scholarly articles available really fight the notion of “redshirting” (delaying entry or holding kids back) citing that any discrepancies in maturation disappear generally by 3rd– 4th grade and that kids eventually exist on equal ground. However, a RAND corporation briefing reports that kids who enter Kindergarten at 6 instead of 5 tend to perform better on standardized tests and learn more over time from schooling, and that these differences do not fade with time, especially in a disadvantaged population.

Most importantly, where do YOU live? What is your societal norm? Are families that are delaying elementary school entry placing their children in a “primer” year or a kindergarten year at a private school, or are the kids existing outside of a true academic environment? In my neighborhood, the great majority of kids delaying entry are better able to read and write basic text from the start thanks to an abundance of accredited primer/preschool programs.

I honestly thought that Kindergarten was the place to learn basic language arts, but in fact, preschool is…

Will you be directly placing your child at a disadvantage if they are young and you start them? Interestingly, my daughter, a May birthday, is thriving as one of the youngest in her class. But school comes easily to her and being the youngest of 3, she’s been encouraged to mature quickly. She has always thrived as the youngest in the group – for any first-born the same is often not true.

There is endless data supporting both points of view regarding redshirting– in fact, Murphy’s Law of Research is that given enough study, you will find data to support pretty much any point of view. But what is the experience for the individual student; for your individual child– that is really the question. We all know our kids, and although my son seemed ready to enter Kindergarten when he did, it probably would have benefitted him to wait a year. I think, as parents, we can only take the knowledge we have of our children and our communities and try to make the best decisions we can, knowing that over time and with more information, our choices and even our general viewpoints may change. If anything is true, it is that over time the world is less black and white, and exceedingly greyer. If you are absolutely sure of your opinion, Murphy’s Law dictates that personal circumstance may force you to reconsider. I suppose on that front, I am maturationally behind as well.