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Schools

Kindergartners will be older beginning in 2012

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week signed Sen. Joe Simitian’s Kindergarten Readiness Act, which raises the age for entering kindergartners beginning in 2012.

Senate Bill 1381 requires children to be 5 years old to start kindergarten. The act also establishes a Transitional Kindergarten, the first year of a two-year kindergarten, for children with fall birthdays (Sept. 2 to Dec. 2) who would be too young under the new cutoff date to enter regular kindergarten.

California, now one of a few states that permit children as young as 4 years and 9 months to enter kindergarten, will join the majority of states who require entering kindergartners to turn 5 by Sept. 1.

Teachers have long sought the change. They consistently report that children younger than 5 are the ones most likely to flounder and fall behind.

“This is a victory for kids on two fronts,” said Simitian (D-11th District), who represents Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. “We start kids when they’re ready to succeed in school; and for younger children, we provide a ‘get ready’ year of instruction as well.”

“SB 1381 is a landmark accomplishment for early-childhood developmental education in California, and I’m proud to sign this important legislation,” Schwarzenegger said. “The best investment we can make in the future of our state is to provide a quality education to California’s children. I commend Senator Joe Simitian for authoring SB 1381 and for his steadfast dedication to California’s students.”

California currently requires incoming kindergarten students to turn 5 by Dec. 2 of the school year, one of the latest cutoff dates in the nation. The Kindergarten Readiness Act backs the cutoff date to Sept. 1, phasing in the change a month at a time over three years, beginning in the fall of 2012.

For those young 5s (children with fall birthdays) whose kindergarten is delayed, the bill creates a Transitional Kindergarten as a bridge between early learning and kindergarten, using a modified kindergarten curriculum that is age and developmentally appropriate. The Transitional Kindergarten is cost neutral (over the next 15 years). Money otherwise allocated for the additional children enrolled in regular kindergartens will fund the program. Some districts already provide Transitional Kindergartens for students who need more time to develop academically or socially.

“We’re placing real academic demands on our kids, and the youngest are struggling to keep up,” Simitian said. “The evidence shows that giving these younger kindergartners an extra year can make a big difference in their long-term success.”

Jeff Baier, Los Altos School District superintendent, said the bill presents benefits for the current kindergarten program.

“Developmentally, there is a significant amount of difference between a (5-year-old) child born in December and one born in July,” he said. “I think this would further enhance our program.”

A 2008 Public Policy Institute of California report reviewed 14 recent studies on how entrance age affects student outcomes in the short and long term. The report suggests “increasing California’s entry age will likely have a number of benefits, including boosting student achievement test scores.” Several of the studies also report that older students are less likely to be retained or diagnosed with a learning disability and have a higher likelihood of attending college and earning higher wages.

To provide flexibility for children with late birthdays who may be ready for kindergarten, the bill protects an important provision in existing law that allows a child born after Sept. 1 to enter kindergarten on a case-by-case basis, if the parent or guardian applies and the school district agrees that it would be in the best interest of the child.

For more information, visit www.senatorsimitian.com/legislation.

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