Kindergarten age cutoff being pushed earlier in TN

1:02 PM, Dec 23, 2012   |    comments
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By: Lisa Fingeroot

Amelia Courington turns 5 years old in mid-August and in plenty of time to meet Tennessee's new kindergarten age cutoff requirement of Aug. 31, but her mom is among a growing number of parents who will "redshirt" her child in hopes of giving her more time to mature.

Tennessee, too, is riding the national wave of opinion that children should be a little older when going to kindergarten and is joining the ever-growing number of states pushing the deadline back.

For the 2013-14 school year, Tennessee children must be 5 by Aug. 31 instead of the Sept. 30 that has been the standard for many years. The Tennessee Department of Education estimates about 1,200 children with September birthdays will be affected by the change this year.

The requirement will change again for the 2014-15 school year, when the cutoff date will permanently become Aug. 15. The changes were made through legislation passed in May.

Amelia, whose birthday is Aug. 18, exemplifies the reasoning behind the change.

"She's not ready," said Shelley Courington, her mother. "I'd rather her be the older one than the younger one." Courington thinks her daughter will be better off both academically and socially if she is "redshirted" this year.

Redshirted is a sports term being applied to the wave of parents around the nation who are keeping their 5-year-olds in preschool. It means the player's participation has been delayed in order to extend his period of eligibility and give him time to physically mature.

"Kindergarten has become more like first grade," said Cindy Ligon, director of day care at the McKendree United Methodist Church in downtown Nashville.

"It used to be commonplace for kindergartens to have play centers and a big block center and lots of time where children could be engaged in child-centered play," she said.

Now, she said, kindergarten has become much more "result-oriented."

Catherine Stephens, a former elementary school principal who is now associate director of schools, teaching and learning for the Franklin Special School District, said one month can make a real difference in a child's maturity.

"Entry into school requires readiness for the lengthy time of learning and experiences each child will have daily," she said. "One month can really make a difference for those students affected, as it provides time for growth and preparedness in both academic and non-academic areas, which should ultimately lead to a more successful experience."

Renessa Genoble, a kindergarten teacher in the Franklin Special School District, agrees that one month can make a big difference in school readiness. She and her colleagues can tell the difference in children who have birthdays early or later in the year, Genoble said.

A RAND Corporation study published in 2010 showed students who began kindergarten at 6 years old perform significantly better on standardized tests throughout their school career than the peers who started earlier.

RAND, a 60-year-old nonprofit cnenter that focuses on health and education among other topics, also said a delayed kindergarten entry was most beneficial to poor children, who posted much better test scores when they began at a later age.

However, a delayed kindergarten start can cost parents more money. By extending day-care expenses, an education policy could end up hurting the families of those same disadvantaged kids, the RAND study warned.

Tennessee, like many other states, has a voluntary public preschool program for those who qualify as low income. Since its inception in 2005, the program has doubled the number of 4-year-olds that it serves to 18,000 across the state.

Children who are currently enrolled in public prekindergarten programs are exempt from the new age cutoff date for the next school year only.

All school systems in Tennessee will accept kindergarten applications March 4-8. Children can be registered at their zoned school, but several documents will be required. A list can be found at each school system.

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