Op-ed: Change age for kindergarten entry date in state

08.12.2010 | Fresno Bee | Larry Powell

Larry L. Powell is Fresno County superintendent of schools.

This summer, as the Fresno County Office of Education remains hard at work to prepare all of its students for another successful year, I encourage California policymakers to ensure our students’ success by supporting SB 1381, a bill to change the kindergarten entry date.

California’s children begin kindergarten at a younger age than kids in almost any other state, often before they are prepared to meet the challenges of school.

We are one of only four states that allow children as young as 4 years old to attend kindergarten; at the same time, we have some of the highest standards in the nation for what we expect our children to learn in our kindergarten classrooms.

Currently, if children turn age 5 by Dec. 2, they can attend kindergarten. SB 1381, sponsored by state Sen. Joseph Simitian, will change the kindergarten entry date in California from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1, so all children enter kindergarten at age 5.

Changing the kindergarten entry date in California also will generate savings that would be used to give children an additional year of preparation before kindergarten. This transitional kindergarten will provide 4-year-olds who turn 5 between September and December with a year of early education to help them develop the skills they need to succeed in kindergarten.

Research shows that moving the kindergarten entry date increases test scores by as much as 27%, an improvement that particularly affects the children with the largest school readiness gaps who need the extra preparation most. Additionally, children who attend high-quality early learning programs are less likely to drop out of high school, be held back a grade, or be placed in special education, and are more likely to score better on reading and math tests.

Fresno County is one of several counties that have recognized the significant benefits and potential of a transitional kindergarten program. Beginning this fall, Washington Elementary School in Kingsburg will open a new classroom for 24 of the district’s youngest students, providing them with an extra year of preparation before kindergarten to develop the skills that will help them succeed in elementary school and beyond.

The program at Washington Elementary, called Transition Kindergarten, is part of a pilot program being offered through the Kingsburg Elementary Charter School District, and will allow children additional time to mature socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically in the year before kindergarten.

Children in the pilot Transition Kindergarten class will benefit from focused instruction and hands-on activities that encourage them to develop skills and concepts at their own pace. Furthermore, the new class will emphasize language, pre-literacy and early math instruction to build a foundation for future learning.

High-quality early childhood programs like transitional kindergarten provide critical preparation for California’s students to enjoy success in elementary school and beyond.

I encourage the California legislature to support SB 1381, setting our children on a path to develop the skills they need to build a brighter future for California.

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