Location:
EDUCATION - (GENERAL);
Scope:
Background;

OLR Research Report


February 4, 2011

 

2011-R-0024

OLR BACKGROUNDER: NARROWING KINDERGARTEN ENTRANCE AGE

By: Amanda Gordon, Research Fellow

This report provides background information on narrowing the kindergarten entrance age.

SUMMARY

Considerable debate exists in the education community about when children are ready to enter school, with a trend toward raising the minimum entrance age and lowering the compulsory age for kindergarten. Some experts believe that older children are better suited to succeed in school while others have found that later entrance deprives children who are ready for the benefits of schooling. The debate about the span of ages in kindergarten has also yielded divided opinions. While some experts assert there is always variability in children's skills no matter what the age, others have found that a wide range of ages among children in kindergarten is detrimental to the learning process.

In recent years, there has been a trend toward raising the minimum entrance age for kindergarten. All 44 states that set a standard kindergarten entrance age for the whole state require a child to turn age five before or during the year he/she enters kindergarten. Likewise, states have different cut-off ages for determining when a child must attend school, with eight states and the District of Columbia having a compulsory school age of five.

Connecticut law requires public schools to register children who reach the age of five on or before January 1 of the year they start school. A child's parent or guardian can delay enrollment of their child by signing a waiver at age five and then again at age six at their school district office.

Three previous proposals to increase the kindergarten entrance age died in the Education Committee. In 2010, the State Board of Education proposed phasing in an adjustment to the admission date to kindergarten over four years (2011-2015), eventually admitting only those students who are five years of age by October 1. The Board also proposed eliminating the law's provision that allows parents to delay enrollment of their children. These proposals are currently incorporated in proposed bills.

PROS AND CONS OF NARROWING THE KINDERGARTEN ENTRANCE AGE

Schools have traditionally used age as the deciding factor to determine a child's readiness for kindergarten. Some education experts believe that older entrants to kindergarten perform better than younger ones. Other experts believe that there is no such connection and delaying children's entrance into school may deprive many children who are ready for the benefits of schooling. Similarly, while some experts assert there is always variability in children's skills no matter what the age, others have found that a wide range of ages among children in kindergarten is detrimental to the learning process.

Pros and Cons of Increasing the Entrance Age

Studies have generally found that older children initially perform better in school but that these positive effects are limited and diminish with age. The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, followed 21,000 children from kindergarten through eighth grade. By the end of first grade, those students who started school at an advanced age tested slightly higher than their younger classmates in reading, but were less proficient in math. A similar study using a representative sample from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study found that a one-year delay in kindergarten entrance increased math and reading scores. This initial advantage persisted during the first two years in school. Another study suggests that students who are older than peers in their grade score higher on achievement tests and are less likely to repeat a grade or to be diagnosed with learning disabilities than younger students in the same class.

Some experts have pointed out, however, that an elementary-age child who starts school older than other children in his or her grade (unless he or she has a learning disability) may score higher than others in his or her grade on tests, but this does not prove that starting school later has improved learning. Rather, it could show only that he or she is older than others in his or her grade taking the test at the same time, at a point in his life when a few months of difference in age can translate into significant differences in experience and cognitive skills.

Other studies note that delayed school entry can have a negative impact on low-income and minority children in particular, for whom school experiences are critical for closing the achievement gap. In addition, experts have speculated that starting school at a later age may have short- and long-term negative economic effects. For example, delaying school entry can cost a family an additional year of child care or preschool, or it can result in the loss of a parent's income for an additional year if that parent stays at home with the child. In the long term, delaying kindergarten also delays the students' completion of their education and entry into the workforce. This depresses lifetime earnings by delaying entry into the labor market, hence reducing Social Security revenues.

Sources: Ashlesha Datar, The Impact of Changes in Kindergarten Entrance Age Policies on Children's Academic Achievement and the Child Care Needs of Families, 2003; David Deming & Susan Dynarski, The Lengthening of Childhood, Summer 2008; Deborah Stipek, At What Age Should Children Enter Kindergarten? A Question for Policy Makers and Parents, 2002; Lizabeth Malone, Jerry West, Kristin Denton Flanagan, The Early Reading and Mathematics Achievement of Children Who Repeated Kindergarten or Who Began School a Year Late, May 2006; Todd E. Elder & Darren H. Lubotsky, Kindergarten Entrance Age and Children's Achievement, June 2006).

Pros and Cons of Decreasing the Compulsory Age

We did not find any academic studies about decreasing the compulsory school age for all children. Most research is about voluntary postponement of age-eligible children into kindergarten.

Some education experts note that there is always variability in children's skills no matter what the age. Kindergarten will inevitably include children who are “well prepared” and not so well-prepared to succeed. At the very least, kindergarten will always include children whose ages vary by as much as twelve months or more. Other experts point out that wide age spans in classrooms can make it difficult for teachers to implement a curriculum that accommodates children's different levels and paces of learning. Delaying entrance widens the gap between the children and sets the standard for achievement based on the performance of the oldest children in the class. This can skew the curriculum, resulting in lower relative performance and increased grade retention rates for children who enter school at the statutory age. It can also be a negative experience for older children who may be bored or disappointed by the kindergarten curriculum, but then overwhelmed by demands as they advance into later grades.

Experts also assert that postponing kindergarten can also intensify inequality from a socioeconomic standpoint. Parents who delay their children's entrance into kindergarten are more likely to be richer and better educated than those who enroll their children as soon as they are old enough to attend. The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study specifically found that children whose kindergarten entry was delayed were more likely than children who started on time to be male, white, and less likely to have attended preschool the year prior to kindergarten. In addition, they were more likely than children who began kindergarten on time to have parents with a bachelor's degree or higher.

Sources: Child Health Alert Inc., Being Older May Not Be Better When it Comes to Kindergarten, 1991; David Deming & Susan Dynarski, The Lengthening of Childhood, Summer 2008; Sharon L. Kagan & Kristie Kauerz, Making the Most of Kindergarten—Trends and Policy Issues, 2006.

KINDERGARTEN ENTRANCE AGE IN OTHER STATES (AS OF 12/2010)

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia set a standard kindergarten entrance age for the whole state, but have different cut-off dates for determining when a child is old enough to enter kindergarten. Similarly, all 50 states and the District of Columbia require children to enroll in public or private education or to be home-schooled, but have different cut-off ages for determining when a child must attend school. Table 1 shows the kindergarten entrance and compulsory ages for the 50 states and the District of Columbia as of December 2010.

Entrance Age

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia set a standard kindergarten entrance age for the whole state. All of these states require a child to turn age five before or during the year he/she enters kindergarten. Six states leave the decision to the local education agencies (LEA).

The states that set a minimum age have different cut-off dates for determining when a child is old enough to enter kindergarten. Five states (including Ohio, see Table 1) have cut-off dates on or before August 15, presumably to ensure that all children turn five before they enter kindergarten. Thirty-five have cut-off dates between August 31 and October 16. Four states and the District of Columbia have cut-off dates between November 1 and January 1.

Of the states mentioned above, three are in the process of making their cut-off dates earlier. Arkansas will require a child to turn five years of age on or before August 1 rather than September 15 in 2011, Nebraska will require a child to turn five years of age on or before July 31 rather than October 15 in 2012, and California will require a child to turn five years of age on or before September 1 rather than November 1 in 2014.

Compulsory Age

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require children to enroll in public or private education or to be home-schooled. The states have different cut-off ages for determining when a child must attend school. Eight states and the District of Columbia have a compulsory school age of five, 24 states have a compulsory school age of six, 16 states have a compulsory school age of seven, and two have a compulsory school age of eight.

TABLE 1: STATE KINDERGARTEN ENTRANCE AND COMPULSORY AGES (AS OF 12/2010)

State

Kindergarten Entrance Age

Compulsory School Age

Alabama

5 on or before 9/01

7

Alaska

5 on or before 8/15

7

Arizona

5 before 9/01

6

Arkansas

5 on or before 9/15

(changing to 8/01 in 2011)

5

California

5 on or before 11/01

(changing to 9/01 in 2014)

6

Colorado

LEA option

6

Connecticut

5 by 1/01

5

(parents can opt out until child is 7)

Delaware

5 on or before 8/31

5

District of Columbia

5 by 12/31

5

Florida

5 by 9/01

6

Georgia

5 by 9/01

6

Hawaii

5 by 8/01i

6

Idaho

5 by 9/01

7

Illinois

5 on or before 9/01

7

Indiana

5 on or before 8/01

7

Iowa

5 on or before 9/15

6

Kansas

5 on or before 8/31

7

Kentucky

5 on or before 10/01

6

Louisiana

5 on or before 9/30ii

7

Maine

5 on or before 10/15

7

Maryland

5 by 9/01

5

Massachusetts

LEA option

6

Michigan

5 on or before 12/01iii

6

Minnesota

5 by 9/01

7

Mississippi

5 on or before 9/01

6

Missouri

5 before 8/01iv

7

Montana

5 on or before 9/10

7

Nebraska

5 on or before 10/15

(changing to 7/31 in 2012)

6

Nevada

5 on or before 9/30

7

New Hampshire

LEA option

6

New Jersey

LEA option

6

New Mexico

5 before 9/01

5

New York

LEA option

6

North Carolina

5 on or before 8/31

7

North Dakota

5 before 9/01

7

Ohio

5 on or before 8/01 or 9/30.

(LEA decision of either 8/01 or 9/30)

6

Oklahoma

5 on or before 9/01

5

Oregon

5 on or before 9/01

7

Pennsylvania

LEA option

8

Rhode Island

5 on or before 9/01

6

South Carolina

5 on or before 9/01

5

South Dakota

5 on or before 9/01

6

Tennessee

5 on or before 9/30

6

Texas

5 on or before 9/01

6

Utah

5 on or before 9/02

6

Vermont

5 on or before 1/01

(LEA may set cut-off date between 8/31 and 1/01)

6

Virginia

5 on or before 9/30

5

Washington

5 on or before midnight 8/31

8

West Virginia

5 on or before 9/01

6

Wisconsin

5 on or before 9/01

6

Wyoming

5 on or before 9/15

7

Source: Education Commission of the States, State Characteristics: Kindergarten, December 2010

CONNECTICUT LAW

Connecticut law requires public schools to register children who reach the age of five on or before January 1 of the year they start school. Thus, children may start school up to four months before their fifth birthday. The law also allows local or regional school boards to waive the minimum age requirement, thereby admitting a child under the age of five (CGS 10-15c). A child's parent or guardian can delay enrollment of their child by signing a waiver at age five and then again at age six at their school district office (CGS 10-184). As a result, the age span of children entering kindergarten is four to seven years.

PROPOSALS TO AMEND THE KINDERGARTEN ENTRANCE AGE

Previous Proposals

The legislature has considered amending the kindergarten entrance age. In 1999, 2001, and 2006 the Education Committee raised bills which would have required a child to be five by September 1 rather than January 1 of the school year (HB 5483, HB 5162, SB 575). All three bills had a public hearing and died in committee.

Current Proposals

In 2010, the State Board of Education proposed phasing in an adjustment to the admission date to kindergarten over four years (2011-2015), eventually admitting only those students who turn five by October 1. It also proposed eliminating parents' ability to delay enrollment of their children until the age of six or seven. Under the proposal, school boards could vote to waive the maximum age requirement on a case-by-case basis.

To prepare for its implementation, the Board proposed increasing school readiness resources to ensure adequate capacity for those students who turn five between October 1 and January 1 and will no longer be eligible to enroll in kindergarten. This would include implementing a communications plan to ensure that local and regional school boards, parents, and others understand the change in law.

The Board's proposal is currently incorporated in proposed bills (HB 5671, SB 420, SB 582) that will have a public hearing in February.

AG:ek

i The entrance age for “junior kindergarten” is five after 8/01 and before 1/01.

ii The entrance age in the Orleans Parish, Louisiana School District is five by 12/30.

iii If the school district has “semiannual promotions,” a child may enroll in kindergarten for the 2nd semester if he is at least five on 3/01 of the school year.

iv The law is different for metropolitan school districts. Those districts may require that a child is five any date between August 1st and October 1st.