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Kindergarten age shift begins next year

11.25.2011 | Gustine Press-Standard

NEWMAN – New state-mandated kindergarten age requirements which begin to phase in next school year will mean that some youngsters essentially go through a two-year kindergarten program.

Officials in the Newman-Crows Landing district are rolling out an informational campaign about the upcoming changes in kindergarten enrollment age and the new program that will be offered to students who are almost – but not quite – old enough to attend traditional kindergarten under the new guidelines.

Traditionally, students were eligible to enter kindergarten if they turned 5 by Dec. 5 – meaning that some students spend nearly their first full semester of formal education as 4-year-olds.

Beginning next year, the deadline will be shifted to Nov. 1, and by 2014-15 students must turn 5 by Sept. 1 to be eligible for kindergarten.

But the children who turn 5 during those autumn months won’t have to wait a full year before they start school. In addition to shifting the eligibility age, the state’s Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010 requires districts to establish a “transitional kindergarten” program to serve those students who would have met past deadlines but are not old enough to enter kindergarten under the new format.

The transitional program is designed to prepare younger students to enter standard kindergarten classrooms the following year – essentially creating a 14-year educational program.

A significant number of students who struggle in kindergarten are those who entered at a young age, district instructional specialist Kim Bettencourt explained.

“They are at the right age according to past law to enter kindergarten, but they were not developmentally (prepared),” she noted.

Bettencourt said the transitional kindergarten will present a curriculum which addresses kindergarten standards but with added emphasis on the developmental aspect.

The veteran elementary teacher said that the increased rigor of curriculum at even the earliest grade levels has added to the importance of students being ready for the classroom. “First grade curriculum is what second grade used to be; and what was the first grade curriculum is now kindergarten,” Bettencourt pointed out.

District officials are still in the process of planning the transitional program and policies.

Superintendent Ed Felt said that, based solely on averages, the district might expect to see 18 or so students next year who turn 5 in November. Under the new guidelines, they would go to transitional rather than traditional kindergarten.

Officials said the district might also offer transitional kindergarten placement next year to students who turn 5 in October, even though they are technically eligible for standard kindergarten.

The birth date deadline for kindergarten eligibility moves up one month each of the next three years.

But there may be some flexibility within the program guidelines as well.

For example, policies may allow the district some leeway in determining the placement of a student who is clearly ready for kindergarten but narrowly misses the birth date cut-off.

Another question is that of whether students who excel in transitional kindergarten may be allowed to shift to a standard kindergarten class at mid-year – or proceed directly to first grade after transitional kindergarten – rather than going through two years of kindergarten.

Transitional kindergarten will only be offered at one site, which raises issues of possibly having elementary-age siblings at two different campuses.

In addition to launching a public education campaign about the kindergarten changes, the district is also trying to get a firmer grasp on the potential number of transitional kindergarten students so it can plan accordingly.

The class will follow the same calendar and schedule as traditional kindergarten, and the district will receive funding for the students.

The ultimate goal, Bettencourt stressed, is that when students exit kindergarten – whether after one year or two – they are well-prepared to succeed in first grade and beyond.

“The idea is to make sure that students can achieve at the same level as their peers,” Bettencourt commented. “When they walk out the door of kindergarten, they have to be ready for first grade just like everybody else.”

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