New law postpones kindergarten for younger bunch |

New law postpones kindergarten for younger bunch

It’s a problem observed for years in California kindergarten classrooms, often accompanied by tears: 4-year-olds with fall birthdays are thrust into school – and struggle to keep up.

Some adjust. Others get overwhelmed by the pressure because they’re a year behind their 5- and 6-year-old classmates at a critical point in their development.

A state law phasing in starting 2012 will adjust the kindergarten cut-off date, so children must turn 5 by Sept. 1, rather than Dec. 2, to enroll. It also adds another pre-K grade level aimed at preparing students for kindergarten classes, which are more rigorous today than they were a decade ago.

“We’re being asked to ratchet up the academics,” said Hennessy School Principal Deb Plate. “We’re asking more and more of kindergartners.”

The same California curriculum standards that have moved algebra from a ninth-grade classroom to an eighth-grade classroom over the past decade have trickled down to kindergarten. In 1997, kindergartners were required to count to 30. Today, kindergartners must count to 100 by ones and by tens. They also must read and write sentences and distinguish between a cone, sphere and cube.

Only four other states have cut-off dates later than California. Teachers who supported the state Senate bill say the adverse effects of the December cut-off date are lasting.

“Almost every child who comes to me for reading support has a fall birthday. They don’t catch up somehow down the line. Instead, they end up on everyone’s radar,” Palo Alto teacher Natalie Bivas told the Associated Press. “By third grade, teachers start asking me why we didn’t hold these children back. By then, we’re discussing a special education intervention.”

Financial impacts

Test scores are higher among students who entered kindergarten at 6 years instead of 5, according to a study by the nonprofit research organization RAND Corp.

“A one-year delay in kindergarten entrance increases math and reading scores by 6 points and more than 5 points, respectively,” the RAND study found.

While the practice of holding back a kindergartner – often called “red-shirting” – has documented benefits, many parents still enroll their 4-year-olds.

“Often, the decision is fiscal,” said Lindsay Dunckel, executive director of First 5 Nevada County. “When you’re paying for daycare or childcare, it’s easier to have your child in public school.”

On the state’s end, delaying kindergarten will affect about 120,000 children annually and save about $700 million each year for 13 years. Those savings will be redirected to create “transitional kindergarten,” a new grade level for children with fall birthdays who will be too young to start regular kindergarten.

Like regular kindergarten, transitional kindergarten is optional, but schools will be required to offer it. Once students graduate high school, the annual savings generated by the delay will end, and the cost of the extra grade will set in.

A similar program – called junior kindergarten – has been in place at Union Hill School for 13 years. It currently enrolls 24 students and features a curriculum focused on pre-reading and pre-mathematics skills. While it’s similar to preschool, the program is designed around state standards and is considered a modified kindergarten.

“It’s all very hands-on and developmentally appropriate,” said junior kindergarten teacher Angie Pereira.

The program also prepares squirmy 4-year-olds for the social interaction and routines of traditional kindergarten once they do enroll.

“Kids will come in with a better knowledge of what school is about,” Pereira said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail or call (530) 477-4247.

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