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:

The state is debating a law changing the kindergarten starting age. (AJC File)

The state Senate is debating a law changing the kindergarten starting age. (AJC File)

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.

 

Reader Comments 0

42 comments
thoughtful11
thoughtful11

Just looking through the comments, it would appear that there is a lot of upside to being older when starting school.  It may not appear in test grades, but also in a social context.  Being mature enough to sit down is important in earlier grades and being mature enough to think abstractly is an important advantage when older.  While age is not the only indicator, it is one which the state can control, unlike background experiences.

Betsy Ross1776
Betsy Ross1776

The problem is a LACK OF TRACKING.
Dumping all kids in one class based on age rather than ability is the real problem here.

Black students come to school far less prepared than their white peers. It's a fact.
When you put high-achieving white students in the same classroom as the lower-achieving black students, everyone suffers.
The teacher is given an impossible task -- to raise the achievements of the high achievers while at the same time bringing up the bottom achievers. It cannot be done well. Everyone loses.
The principal of Hope Hill elementary school said it best -- in her school filled with almost all black students -- students come to kindergarten NOT knowing how to count to ten and can only recognize a handful of letters.
Compare that to the neighboring school where some white children can ALREADY READ in kindergarten.
Now, two months of age won't change anything.
You have to TRACK.
Until you track, you will always fail.

DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

I'm looking forward to hearing more on this very topic from the Move On When Ready Committee of the Governor's Education Reform Commission. I spoke last week with Kylie Holley, superintendent of Pataula Charter Academy, who is serving on that committee. The Governor's charge to the committee was: 

Explore and make recommendations for the most efficient and effective methods for creatinga seamless education system that allows students to progress based oncompetency.

Youhavearareopportunitytothinkoutsidethetraditionallockstepofgradedprogressionin publiceducation,fromkindergartenthroughpostsecondary,andproposeanewvisionforacademic advancement inGeorgia.

I’ve advocated for years for ungraded primary and elementary education, as well as mastery learning in the secondary grades. Sorting children into birthday cohorts serves relatively little in the way of ensuring “age-appropriate” learning, as there is such a wide disparity in skill levels, particularly as schooling moves into subject-based classrooms in the middle grades. It is exciting to contemplate that our state is taking a close look at this. 

NGateacher
NGateacher

This article is about kindergarten (which as an American I am embarrassed is not required in all states) but the principles can be applied to later grades.  In the last decade or two, some disturbing trends have taken place in curriculum.  In kindergarten getting rid of recess and the play kitchens, singing, etc. is ridiculous, particularly in light of the fact that the average child in public schools lives in near-poverty, and lacks the family-indiced social and early reading skills of 1960s public school kids.    Experienced teachers can within a couple weeks diagnose which kids are better off taking kindergarten a year later, or simply taking it twice.   The next great stepping grade is fourth.  If a student cannot read and write by the end of fourth grade, going to fifth is a disaster, and any middle or high school teacher will tell you that the large "nonreader" group can be traced back to this breakpoint.   After this, the eighth grade is a sore spot because  of the enormous mistake state level administrators made in the math curriculum.  Ten years ago, It was bad enough that algebra was required in ninth grade (with routinely half of kids failing in many schools) but now basic algebra, instead of being moved to TENTH grade (where  kids would be much better off) is now required in the eighth grade, where only the most advanced kids can comprehend it.  Now, the great bulk of kids "lose it" in eighth grade  math and then struggle awfully (or just give up) throughout the very difficult Georgia Standards high school curriculum.   As a thirty-year teacher, I cannot emphasize enough how important student READINESS is, particularly at these three break points.

Betsy Ross1776
Betsy Ross1776

@NGateacher  What you need is tracking NGateacher. Some kids, actually many kids ARE ready for algebra in the eighth grade. I certainly was ready and so will my children.
One track does NOT fit all. THAT is the problem.
The problem is NOT offering algebra to eighth graders but rather only offering it to those students who are ready for it.
 

thoughtful11
thoughtful11

@newsphile 

You are correct about the half.  It is about 18%, but there are a lot of children above poverty level who are not ready  for kindergarten.  I found the 18% at http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/13000.html

If I had to guess, I would guess this is an underestimate, because of underreporting of migrants.  A 20% poverty rate is staggering. With an estimate of 10 million people in the state, that is 2 million people.

newsphile
newsphile

@NGateacher   I find it hard to believe that the average child in today's public schools in GA is near or at the poverty level.  I haven't seen that with my volunteering at schools.  If the basis of your belief is free/reduced school lunches, I can tell you with certainty that is not a reliable source.

There is no one source for poverty stats which results in much duplication.  For example, soup kitchens, food banks, shelters, other nonprofits, churches, and free/reduced lunches may all submit numbers of families served within a community, but one family may visit all these resources and would be counted these multiple times. 

I realize there are too many children in poverty, but I don't believe it's half. 


hssped
hssped

I often wish I had held my son back a year.  He has a midsummer birthday and was always one of the youngest in the class.  The kids that were held back a year, and there were several, were more mature (of course) but also physically bigger.  A couple of the parents told me that they made the decision to keep their kids back so their sons would have an advantage when it came to high school sports.  Guess what?  They did have an advantage.   That seems wrong to me.

EliasDenny
EliasDenny

You may want to ask some kindergarten teachers who have to toilet train some students.

jerryeads
jerryeads

Sadly, eTalker, too many education systems treat kids as widgets. We usually refer to it as "The Factory Model." Watch several of the 20 minute clips of Ken Robinson on TED Talks - one of the most fun being the RSA Animate piece also posted there. From a systems standpoint, if you're trying to get the most kids passing any state's minimum competency tests, the older the better. That way, the schools can shove later curriculum down earlier, so 2nd grade becomes 1st, 1st becomes K, and so forth. If we keep it up, one of these days the K entry age will be 10 - - - -. That said, yes, there is ENORMOUS variation in rates of maturation. I was talking with a physician the other day who noted she didn't start to read until 2nd grade. Perfectly within the "normal" range, except we don't allow it any more.

Sara0507
Sara0507

My daughter has a late May birthday and was the youngest in her Kindergarten class. She had some academic issues but we couldn't put our finger on them exactly, so we decided to have her repeat kindergarten, thinking maybe she just needed "extra time".   At the end of the 2nd year of kindergarten, we discovered her "issues" were called dyslexia.  She is about to turn 10 this spring and is in the 3rd grade which makes her the oldest, by 4 months,  in her class.  Overall, it has been advantagous to her to be the oldest, although, she does get questions about why all the other kids on her soccer team are her same age but a grade older. She has to constantly tell people that her mom made her do kindergarten twice which can be awkward for a kid. As a parent, so far, being the oldest has been a good thing. But my fear is that she will turn 18 at the end of her junior year. That's just such a rebellous stage. With the dyslexia, school is a struggle for her to begin with, so being old enough to leave/drop out without my permission scares the crap out of me.  


I would think that this issue of turning 18 even earlier would be especially worrisome for those groups who already have high drop out rates. 

eTalker
eTalker

There has to be some general rule that can be applied to explain why one child learns at a different pace than another child.  At least that seems to be the consensus.  I suspect one day those in charge will realize that children are not widgets made the same way every time.  There is no guarantee that a child born in January of 2015 will be smarter than a child born in December of 2015  by the time  school start in the year they make 5 years old.


I know for a fact a child born within the last 7 days of the year can be as smart a child born in the first 7 days of the year.  There are a lot of things to consider when determining why a child is not grasping a subject, I doubt it's because the child was born after some arbitrary cutoff date.  I'd bet on the child's ability to read and comprehend what he is reading.


Born at the end of December in 1962 did not put me at a disadvantage with my classmates that were born in January of 1962 in the classroom or on campus.  There are a lot of things they will tell you about me, but I doubt dumb is one of them.

Peter Lance
Peter Lance

We held our son out a year because he has a summer birthday.  He is 42 now and says that was the best thing we ever did for him.  He always did well in school is now a successful businessman.

D_J
D_J

This article has the dates incorrect.  The August 1 cutoff would be for school year 2017-2018 and then July 1 for school year 2018-2019, per the Georgia General Assembly website with the full House Bill information.

anothercomment
anothercomment

Public Schools need to take a close look at what all the top performing Private schools and Catholic schools do, after all the Politicians send their children and grandchildren to these schools, not public schools. First thing is they must create a Pre- first grade, and be prepared to send 1/3 of the Kindergarten class every year to this extra year class, with smaller class ratio's and teacher aide, prior to promoting them to First grade. Some children are held back for academic readiness, others for maturity issues, some because they just can't sit still yet. Their is no arguing, your child does not under any circumstances get promoted directly to first, if the teachers have decided that they need to go to Prefirst. Kids who end up going to Prefirst most of the time end up on level or above with the first grade class they merge back in with.

All children need to be tested for admittance. Parents of 4,5,6 year olds may request that their children be tested for admission to the upcoming school year for consideration for K through first grade. ( I myself started First grade at age 5 with a mid December Birthday, never having attended Kindergarten or Pre-K in the mid 60's., Now my mother allthough she had dropped out of Highschool in 11 th grade, to help support her family, grew up with her family working as the help on large estates in NY State, among the cultured. My mother was taken by one of these wealthy families to Conn. For 10 years to be their children's Nanny. My father grew up on one of the Estates in NY with the Nanny, down the road from my mother. His Mother was a Socialite according to her obit. Both my parents were in their mid 30's when I was born as a first child. I learned to read the newspaper at 3. My mother read to us nightly, before we went to bed at 7:30). I am an oldest child, to have held me back literally two years as this law proposes would be a sin.

My father worked two jobs when we were little so my mother could stay home with us, as my grandfather died in 1963. Those TV preachers Jim Backer, Jimmy Sweigert etc... Convinced my grandmother in the proceeding 20 years to write them check after check of a very sufficient estate. My parents made sacrifices. We went to catholic school for 6 years. We also lived in the best public school district we could after that. In other words their is no excuse for parents not making sure their children are ready for school. Those who have prepared their children should not be penalized by others who don't care or want to belong to immature cultures that are anti educatiOn.

We need to get rid of super sized school districts. No school district should have more that two high schools in it. school districts need local accountability. They also need to cater to the local culture, which can very neighborhood to neighborhood.

Children need to be separated by their ability to thrive. My CHildrens education should not be diminished to help a lower IQ child. I spent time with my children and prepare them, I don't go out to clubs. I also waited until my 30's when I could support my children to have them, and I only had the number I could support.

Children

popacorn
popacorn

@anothercomment Sorry, your kids will learn at the lowest level present in the classroom. Anything else is not politically correct. 

DS
DS

Thanks for posting links to these documents that review the research.

I must say, though, that the documents don't support what the mother claims. Rather they point to a general consensus in the research that older Kindergarteners generally do better in school than their younger classmates, but that this difference fades over the years. 

There are a few studies that contradict these findings, so one can raise doubts about the consensus. And different studies use different methods of grouping cohorts, so the literature has a lot of back and forth about the best methodology, which also seems to cast doubts about the strength of the findings. But the general consensus remains.

I think redshirting makes sense for some kids, but not all, in two ways. Some kids might be intellectually ready for the academic topics introduced in kindergarten, but they don't have the maturity to stay focused on that kind of work for very long. They want to play with their toys and with their friends. And when they get to late middle school and early high school, some kids do better socially and emotionally if they are with a younger crowd. These things can't easily be measured by math test scores, but they're still critically important.

booful98
booful98

@DS THANK YOU for pointing out the emotional maturity aspect. That's exactly what was going on with my oldest who has a summer birthday. I held him back because, even though academically he was ready, I did not think he could handle the social aspects of school.

So far, I have had no regrets. He relates very well with his peers (now) and is more of a leader than a follower. I think the fact that he's a few months (or more) older than his peers made a difference,

ProHumanitate
ProHumanitate

@DS

So why not have a "first two years"? Kids develop at such different rates, but they tend to even out to a degree by the end of 1st grade.

Don't call K or 1 a discreet "grade", but put the kids in the learning groups where they are best situated at any point in time. Make the groups fluid.

ProHumanitate
ProHumanitate

@DS

My 1st grader this year was not particularly interested in reading last year as a kindergartner. But once the light bulb turned on, she was reading at a 3rd grade level by Christmas of 1st grade. These "standards" for the youngest grades are ridiculous if you're trying to hold the teachers accountable to having their kids achieve them.

gtgrad99
gtgrad99

To the people arguing that younger kids can't socialize with those a year older than them, you realize that no matter when the cutoff date is there will always be a year difference between the oldest and youngest kids? Moving the cutoff from September to  August to July isn't going to change that. Everyone has the right to hold their own kid back if they aren't ready but that shouldn't punish all the other kids that are ready just because of an arbitrary date. Kids that have been attending all day daycare and preschool are more than ready to sit for the full day of kindergarten.

EdumacateThat
EdumacateThat

@gtgrad99 Thank you!  I couldn't agree more.  My kids always sought out older kids to play with.  All three will graduate HS at 17.  I couldn't imagine their boredom had we left them in the grade they started at.  Georgia needs to have some way to evaluate the outliers in this situation.  After all, MLK Jr. graduated HS at 15.

Batgirl2
Batgirl2

@gtgrad99  I agree.  No matter when we set the start date, there will always be a year's difference between the oldest and the youngest.  My birthday is December 31st, and I started first grade back in the mid 1960's at 5-years-old.  Although I was pretty shy as a child, I did okay academically.  A high school classmate's birthday was January 1st, so he was a year older than me.  His extra year probably made him more mature than me, but today we both have advanced degrees from UGA and are both  doing very well.  Leave the cutoff dates where they are and let parents make the decision as to when to start their child. 


Someone suggested making K-1 grades fluid and allowing kids to move through those at their own pace.  I like that idea, but instead, I would make pre-K and K the fluid years and let kids move on to first when they are ready.



sladersaan
sladersaan

There are more than kindergarten readiness factors too.  We did not want our daughter being a very young 18 year old freshman in college.  We did not want her to be the last to drive among her peers.  We are conservative and probably will not allow her to date as early as others, therefore we did not want her to be in the same class with other girls who could potentially be dating boys for up to 2 years earlier.  When talking to other parents about their decision to delay or not delay the start, my wife and I could not find one person who regretted delaying school start an extra year, but plenty who regretted not delaying.  It was enlightening to talk with parents who made this decision as many as 18-20 years ago.

booful98
booful98

@sladersaan I'm LOLing at you not "allowing" your daughter to date. Like you are even going to know she's dating. Protip: they don't go to the drug store for a soda anymore.

fez
fez

@sladersaan On the flip side of that argument, there are many parents that are glad that their children started school at 4 and graduated at 17.  There are probably parents out there that regret delaying.  It means nothing that you don't know any of them.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Astro, Look at the research studies The issue isn't this one reader; it's her point that this decision should not be made without looking at what we know about the outcomes to kids. The links are with each of her points. 



Astropig
Astropig

@MaureenDowney


Adress the social implications I mentioned. Convince me. Otherwise, this is nonsense.

Astropig
Astropig

I'm astonished that you people are just looking at dry numbers and not considering the bigger picture here. Sometimes,the student is academically ready as all get-out. They're going to do fine.But socially, your little precious may not be ready to play and interact with kids that may be 13-14-15 months older than they are.That may not sound like a huge difference to people our age,but at that stage of life,it can be huge.Add in the male/female, amazingly intelligent/learning disabled as well as a half dozen other factors and you're playing with dynamite. Themes and concepts that are appropriate at 4 are sometimes different when a child is crowding 7 years of age.Sometimes,it's not just about test scores a few years down the road. 


I'm sure that this ONE READER is a perfectly fine person and all,but should we make such important decisions based on one person's "gut feeling"? 


I'm with Superintendent Woods on this one. There has to be a cutoff somewhere and if parents feel that strongly about it,they can enroll their kids in a private school if they qualify.

fez
fez

@Astropig So how do we address children that are of age and still aren't socially ready?  To your last sentence, there was already a cut-off date.  Moving the line isn't going to change things.

Astropig
Astropig

@fez @Astropig


"So how do we address children that are of age and still aren't socially ready? "


Well, putting them in there earlier isn't going to help,either. 

liberal4life
liberal4life

I think we should be debating whether or not Kindergarten be mandatory in Georgia first.

booful98
booful98

Say YOU. My oldest was held back (summer birthday) and was 6 when he started Kindergarten. Now at 14, he's doing great. He is currently in all advanced classes in his East Cobb middle school (including 3 high school level classes) and he got accepted to 3 high school magnet programs in Cobb Co. I am fairly certain he won't be missing out on any education years.


He was not ready for K. That was a fact. And I have regretted nothing. Maybe if we didn't expect 4 to 5 year olds to put in a long day, sit still for hours on end and read and write at a 2nd grade level, this wouldn't be an issue.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

The rub comes in what is expected of kindergarteners.  If we expect them to sit still for hours, pouring over workbooks, then they need to be 6 or 7 in kindergarten.  If we instead pursue educational goals through movement, music, play, and other developmentally appropriate methods (which CAN be done, and HAS been done), children can be barely 5 (and we are not talking about a high percentage of kids) and will mature as more is encountered in the class.


Right now, I am NOT happy with what I see kindergartens using to achieve readiness.  Too much pencil and paper, too much sitting still.

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

@EdumacateThat @Wascatlady I keep hearing about how a kindergarten student cant sit still for 6 hours at a time (at 32 years old, I have a problem with this as well), and the teacher immediately tells the parent that their kid may have ADD or some medical condition.  Um, the medical condition is that he's 5-Friggin-Years-Old, and it's temporary.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@EdumacateThat @Wascatlady My two older were September birthdays. They would have been fine in all ways to start the year they turned 5.  I have never regretted them getting the extra year, in part because our school allowed them to get the instruction they needed in other grade classes.  They were both reading fluently in kindergarten, one on third grade level, and one on 5th grade, but went up for reading instruction and were given individual math instruction.  A small, local school can be flexible like that.


It was quite rough when the cutoff was January 1, as it was for many years, because many of these youngest children were not ready for the age-appropriate kindergarten class.  It was exacerbated by the fact that virtually NONE of the students had ever been in preschool or daycare.  The decision to go to September 1 helped a great deal.  I am doubtful that pushing it back 2 months will make the kind of difference the 4 month change did make.


What we need is age-appropriate kindergarten, with flexibility to challenge students who are more ready to tackle more advanced academic work.  A good kindergarten can do that, with administrative knowledge and support. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@RichardKPE @EdumacateThat @Wascatlady And, no, a good kindergarten teacher does not tell a parent that.  Not allowed to, for one reason.  Secondly, kindergarten teachers should certainly be aware of child development, and advocate for their students.

EdumacateThat
EdumacateThat

@Wascatlady I wholeheartedly agree with your statements, but I'd like to add two things:

[1]  I believe this is simply smoke-and-mirrors by the state as, really, how many children would be denied admission to kindergarten if the cut-off was moved forward one month?  Is the negligible amount of kids put off another year really going to make the difference in the success of the K classrooms?  I don't think so.  Maybe, K classrooms would be better served if tasks/academics were age-appropriate.  Once again, the state is "solving" the wrong problem.

[2]  And what about those kids that are not only ready for Kindergarten but are born late in the year?  To my knowledge, this backward state does not evaluate kids to see if they should be admitted early to Kindergarten.  In my family's case, the curriculum was so mismatched to my children's skill sets that we pursued full grade acceleration for all three kids.  One skipped the last half of Kindergarten.  One skipped second grade.  One skipped third grade.  All are doing well socially and academically.  I wouldn't care about this arbitrary cut-off so much is Georgia would at least consider some flexibility to test advanced 4 year old children.

Astropig
Astropig

@RichardKPE @EdumacateThat @Wascatlady


You're spot on.


"the teacher immediately tells the parent that their kid may have ADD or some medical condition. "


Pediatricians don't try to teach about letters and numbers. Why do teachers try to play doctor?