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Opinion: Little benefit to delaying when children start kindergarten

A reader sent me review of the research on children starting kindergarten later in light of a legislative effort to push back the eligibility date in Georgia.

Her conclusion: There would be no benefit to requiring children to be older when they enter kindergarten.

Now, children must be 5 on or before Sept. 1. The initial version of House Bill 100 required children to be 5 by Aug. 1 to enter kindergarten this fall. However, state Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, announced a substitute version of the bill.

It would require students to be 5 by Aug. 1 to enroll in kindergarten for the 2016-17 school year or 5 by July 1 by the start of the 2017-18 school year and each year thereafter.

The bill has the support of  Georgia Schools Superintendent Richard Woods, who said, "I wholeheartedly support House Bill 100. Since most schools now start before Sept. 1, we have many students starting kindergarten far too young. Some younger students, especially four-year-olds, are not developmentally ready for kindergarten. Oftentimes their presence in a classroom requires teachers to provide pre-kindergarten services to the disadvantage of the older students who are ready to learn at the kindergarten level and achieve the high academic standards we have in Georgia.”

According to the AJC: If the bill is approved, Georgia’s kindergarten birthday cutoff date would be among the earliest in the nation. Nineteen states, including Georgia, currently require a child to be 5 on or before Sept. 1 to enroll in kindergarten. Seven states let their local education agencies make the call.

Here is the reader's analysis:

I am a longtime reader of Get Schooled and in light of House Bill 100 moving to the state Senate, I wanted to share some academic research about the impact of kindergarten age.

As an educator, mother, and taxpayer I have serious concerns.

I have heard debate on both sides of the July 1st kindergarten cutoff date but am alarmed by how little actual scientific evidence of kindergarten age and student achievement has been considered.

Key Points from Source 1: A lost year of schooling may lower test scores by more than is gained by an additional year of school preparation. Americans who are older when they start kindergarten also on average end up with less schooling as adults, since the oldest children in a class reach the age at which they can legally leave school in a lower grade. Further, starting kindergarten later may impact minorities at a higher level. There could also be an overall negative impact on the labor market and economy due to lower lifetime earnings. To review source, go here .

Key Points from Source 2: More than 900 students were studied longitudinally and although there was some difference seen on particular third grade tests, there was no socio-emotional difference for students who started kindergarten younger. The authors conclude, "The fact that age-of-entry effects were small in magnitude and dwarfed by other aspects of children’s family and child care experiences suggests that age at starting school should not be regarded as a major determinant of children’s school achievement, but that it may merit consideration in context with other probably more important factors (e.g., child’s behavior and abilities)."  To review source, go here.

Key Points from Source 3: This study looked at results for over 1,100 students and found there to be no difference on 8th grade math and reading scores based on kindergarten entry age. To review source, go here.

While I understand that this is not a clear-cut issue and that many have personal opinions based on their experience, I find the evidence that raising the kindergarten age to be inconclusive at best for it helping students in the long run compared to the possible consequences.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.