The Tucson Unified School District might put an end to early admission into kindergarten.
For nearly three years, TUSD has allowed children who don’t turn 5 years old until after Sept. 1 to be assessed for early enrollment. But Superintendent H.T. Sanchez is citing academic concerns for recommending that the practice end.
“What we’re finding is in kindergarten, these students do well,” Sanchez said. “But they begin to struggle in second and third grades. My recommendation is to stop this practice, because it’s not benefiting the kids and no other school districts are doing it.”
Testing has shown that 14 percent of the children admitted into school early are not meeting benchmarks in reading and math.
Add to that a 40 percent attrition rate and the result is about half of the students are not experiencing the same type of academic success as the other half, said Teri Melendez, TUSD interim assistant superintendent of elementary and K-8 leadership.
“Being young affects individual students differently,” Melendez said. “As material gets more complex, some students struggle. While an early-entry student may be turning 5 sometime during the first semester, all the other students are already 5 and/or already turning 6 beginning in September, essentially creating classrooms where students can be more than a year older.
“There is such a big difference in developmental, social, conceptual, academic growth within a year when children are young.”
Over the last three years, 306 children have been tested for early entrance into kindergarten, but only 61 have made the cut.
Of those 61, only 37 remain, with the others having been pulled out by parents as a result of being too young, having to move or to return to preschool if kindergarten becomes too stressful, Melendez said.
TUSD will continue to gather data through this school year on the issue and will report back to the Governing Board later, Sanchez said Tuesday.
While some 4-year-olds may be successful in kindergarten, there are caveats that need to be considered when thinking about early entrance, said Ginger Sandweg, senior director for early learning at Arizona First Things First.
Kindergarten readiness goes beyond letter and number recognition. Other factors include whether a child has the capacity to not only sit for long periods of time, but to be able to control impulses and pay attention to the teacher to complete tasks. Also important is a child’s ability to engage with peers, solve problems with peers and interact with adults.
That assessment, according to Sandweg, should occur over a period of time rather than on a one-time basis to ensure that the child consistently demonstrates those skills.
“What we or our parents were expected to know when walking in the kindergarten door is vastly different than what children are expected to know today,” said First Things First spokeswoman Liz Barker.
Added Sandweg: “Is the child socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively ready for the rigor in kindergarten?”
The Sept. 1 cutoff for kindergarten entry is in place under Arizona law, but governing boards may admit children who will turn 5 by the end of the calendar year if it is determined to be “in the best interest of the children.”
In TUSD, that is determined by an assessment, which looks at gross and fine motor skills as well as social, developmental and academic factors. The cost of the testing is about $50 per student for the tester, plus the loss of state funding for one year if the student is retained or parents decide to pull the student out and re-enroll the following year in the same grade.