According to school entry regulations in most countries, the composition of school entrance cohorts is determined by a fixed cutoff date. This procedure creates inter-cohort differences in age and development since some of the children entering school have just turned six whereas others are almost seven. The differences in age and developmental status translate into differences in school performance which persist over almost the whole period of compulsory schooling. Although diminishing during secondary school, these effects might influence decisions like school entry and track choice. This might be particularly important in a system of early tracking as it is the case in Germany. Developmental disparities become visible for the first time when the school entrance decision is made. All German federal states rely on medical screenings of the school entering cohort as a form of compulsory health examination and to assure a minimum developmental level for school start. The German school entrance screenings are administered by government pediatricians. They thoroughly examine the health status of the children and perform tests on pre-academic skills such as cognitive development, social behavior or motor skills. At the end, the pediatrician decides whether to recommend the child to start compulsory primary schooling. This paper addresses the question of how early differences in age and development influence children's probability of being recommended for school and assesses whether developmental gaps close by delaying school entry. We use a unique administrative data set on the school entrance examination of all children in the German federal state of Brandenburg. Our results show that impairments in cognitive, socio-emotional and motor development as well as health are negatively related to the probability to receive a school recommendation. Moreover, younger children are less likely to be recommended for school. This occurs for two reasons: First, they show developmental impairments more often. Second, they have a lower probability of being recommended per se. Delaying school entry allows children to improve, although their developmental status remains below average. Especially the younger retained children catch-up more often. While cutoff rules determine school entry by age, entrance examinations consider also a child's developmental status. By not recommending younger and developmentally disordered children the examination sets a minimum development requirement for school entry and harmonizes the school entering cohort with respect to age and development. In general, flexible school entry rules that - besides age - also take childrens' development into account could mitigate disadvantages for relatively young children.
Horstschräer, Julia and Grit Mühler (2010), School Entrance Recommendation: A Question of Age or Development?, ZEW Discussion Paper No. 10-047, Mannheim. Download