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State Board Of Education Votes To Tighten Eligibility Rules For Kindergarten

Grace E. Merritt

December 02, 2010

The State Board of Education voted Wednesday to narrow the time frame for when children enter kindergarten, meaning that classrooms will mostly be made up of 5-year-olds and have fewer 4-year-olds.

The board's decision, which must be approved by the state legislature, would roll back the cutoff date for parents to enroll their child in kindergarten by three months. Children would need to be age 5 by or on Oct. 1. The current cutoff date is Jan. 1.

On the other end of the spectrum, parents who want to hold back their children to allow them more time to mature would have to get permission from their local board of education.

Although it seems like a small step, the board's decision could have important ramifications for teachers, parents and students.

Education leaders say the decision is better for teachers and students because it will make kindergartners closer in age. Under existing rules, 4-year-olds are sometimes in classrooms with much bigger and socially and mentally advanced 7-year-olds. Officials believe that the new restrictions would lead to more targeted lessons, help close the academic achievement gap and bring Connecticut in line with the most of the rest of the country.

But parents could find themselves paying for day care for an additional year. And those looking to give their child the advantage of more time to develop and mature and, perhaps, compete better in sports might be out of luck. The plan allows local school boards to vote to admit students early or delay admission for up to one year.

"It all has to do with developmental appropriateness providing an educational program that is specific to an age group," said Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the state Department of Education. "If you have a kindergarten class where students are 4 1/2 and 6 1/2, it presents some difficulty for teachers as well as students. There are also issues around achievement gap and child development."

The measure would be phased in over four years to give preschools and day-care centers time to adjust to the new law.

Some parents sign their children up to start kindergarten at age 4 because they can't find an appropriate preschool, or because they want to avoid the cost of paying for another year of nursery school or day care, Murphy said.

In conjunction with the new law, Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan proposed providing preschool for low-income students to fill any gaps created by the new enrollment date.

Officials estimate that it would cost the state about $36.7 million a year to provide preschool for the estimated 4,400 low-income students who would be affected by the enrollment change.

McQuillan said he thinks that the change is overdue and will help close the academic achievement gap between poor and minority students and their wealthier, white peers because students will be exposed to more preschool and be roughly the same age when they begin kindergarten.

"We're suffering mostly from a preparation gap," McQuillan said.

A recent education department study found that about 30 percent of families in the poorest school systems enrolled their children in kindergarten at age 4, compared with 17 percent in the wealthiest districts.

In Hartford, 26 percent of the city's 1,635 kindergartners in 2009 started school at age 4, while 28 percent were 5 1/2.

In contrast, most Avon families wait until their children are older. Only 13 percent of the town's 205 kindergartners started school at age 4, while 38 percent started at age 5 1/2, according to the state study.

"We are the exception in Connecticut," Murphy said. "The vast preponderance of other states have this as a requirement that children are 5 on Sept. or Oct. 1st.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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