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
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!