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June 17, 2009

Age vs. Development

One of my students, Makiera, will turn five in October.  She has been in my preschool class for two full years, and according to DC Public Schools (DCPS) Policy regarding birthdates, she will be required to attend a year of pre-k before beginning kindergarten.  You see, Makiera misses the age cutoff for kindergarten in DCPS by two weeks.  Her birthday is in October, and all children who attend kindergarten in DCPS are required to be five years old by the end of September.  
On the one hand, I completely understand this policy.  I see no rush in sending children to kindergarten; I know how valuable high quality preschool and pre-k classes can be, and I firmly believe that children who have a solid foundation in academic, social, and emotional skills are much better prepared for success in kindergarten.  By requiring all children to be five by a September 30 cut-off date, DCPS is increasing the likelihood that children will have developed these foundational skills either in preschool, pre-k or at home. 
On the other hand, I see the importance of considering the needs of individual children.  Makiera, who has been in pre-k for two years now, is already reading, writing, and doing math at a kindergarten level.  She engages in complex play with her peers, solves problems creatively, and regulates her emotions with ease.  In my opinion, Makiera is more than ready for kindergarten.
In DC, Makiera would be required to attend pre-k next year, regardless of her developmental level.  But there's a hitch, Makiera's family is moving to a neighboring school district this summer with a slightly different kindergarten entrance policy.  In Montgomery County, Maryland, children typically must be five years old by September 1st before entering kindergarten.  But there is some flexibility with this policy.  If a child turns five between September 1 and October 15, they can apply for early entrance to kindergarten.  As described on the Montgomery County Public Schools website:

To be recommended for early entrance to kindergarten, children will need to demonstrate above average performance and development in academic skills as well as social/emotional and physical development. The standards for early entrance are very high to ensure that students are not frustrated by their advanced grade placement...  Assessments include a variety of activities that measure a child's performance during whole group and individual activities within the following developmental domains: personal and social development, language and literacy, mathematical thinking, physical well-being, and motor development. Recommendation for early entrance to kindergarten will be made based on a review of screening assessment data, parent application checklist, and any other relevant documentation submitted.  

Makiera completed this comprehensive assessment several weeks ago, and has been recommended for early entrance into kindergarten.  So now, because her family is moving just a few miles away, Makiera will start kindergarten a year before her DC peers born after September 30.
This whole scenario has gotten me thinking: how should school systems determine kindergarten eligibility?  Is it best to have firm cutoffs that attempt to ensure children's readiness for kindergarten, or is it better to consider entrance on a case-by-case basis?  How should unique exceptions to the policies be handled?  I'm curious to hear your perspective on the issue -- please leave a comment to share your ideas! 


I think that a cutoff date is good but there should be also a case by case exception. I have had one of my students go on to Kindergarten and only when they were celebrating her birthday did they realize that it was past the Oct. 1st deadline in my district. She was then sent back to pre-k for that extra year. I think that by then they should have let her stay in Kindergarten but my district adheres to the deadline. I think establishing a way to have children who are absolutely ready developmentally and can show it consistently enter before the deadline is great.

I speak from the perspective of both a student and a parent, and wish that more states/districts had some flexibility. Parents can delay entry by a year or two, but there is no provision for sending kids who just miss the cutoff, even if they're really, really ready. My husband and I share the same birthday. I started kindergarten at 4 because I was deemed ready by my preschool teachers (from NY - late cutoff date, fall birthdays usually up to the parents). My husband was held back. We had opposite experiences in school - I did quite well and loved it. He was bored and didn't really find joy in school until he got to college. So we want our 8/2 birthday daughter to start kindergarten when she's 5. Nothing novel about that, right? Except we now live in MO and she must be 5 BEFORE 8/1 to start school. She misses the cutoff by a day or two. And there is no flexibility at all. We live in St. Louis, so are actually considering moving to IL so that she can go to kindergarten. Because there is also an 8/1 cutoff for first grade. So private school would have to be for 2 years. If she goes to kindergarten in IL she can then go to first grade in MO. I understand the difficulty setting cut-off dates, but there needs to be SOME way to deal with kids who just miss and are REALLY REALLY ready.
And I hate how everyone tells me that "no one ever regrets holding their kid back and having them be the oldest in the class". Clearly they've never talked to my in-laws who definitely DO regret holding my husband back.

I'm trying to get my 4 year old into kindergarten this year. School starts next week and the school just noticed that my son's "not old enough". It's especially challenging for me to keep his mind actively engaged in learning as I have 2 of his siblings at home, too. Entrance into school should really be up to the parents as long as the minimum intelligence/testing requirements are met. It's not for the State or District to decide readiness based on age alone.

I am wondering if there is a documented case of someone getting their child into school. Anyone? I just don't want to pay tuition at a private school for kindergarten and first grade. After that there isn't an age requirement so transferring wouldn't be a problem.

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