New legislation will change the kindergarten entry age

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By Consuelo McAboy

Kindergarten is the first step of a child's journey to becoming a lifelong learner.

It's the place where children learn their ABC's and social skills.

Michigan is now considering new legislation that will require some kids to stay at home another year before being eligible for that first step.

When you think of kindergarten, learning how to stand in a straight line or share with your partner in class may be the first memories that come to mind.

In recent years, Shepherd Elementary School as well as all kindergarten classrooms across the nation have placed more focus on academics in the kids' early years.

That shift toward a more academic kindergarten has led to a proposal for kids to be older when they start school.

The bill would change the current cutoff date for kindergarten enrollment. Currently kids have to be five by December 1st. 

Under the new proposal, they'd have to be five by September 1st.  Supporters said the move will give children more time to develop.

The new legislation would also require every child to be at least 5 years old before attending Kindergarten.

What the measure would essentially do is phase out the kids whose birthdays fall between September 1st and December 1st.  They'd have to start the next year.

Amy Salogar is the principal at Shepherd Elementary School. She said the new starting date would be a positive change.

"My initial reaction is that I think it's a good thing. When I taught kindergarten, I saw some students, especially if they were four when they started school and they didn't turn 5 until October or November, sometimes it was hard for them and they were old enough to be there, but it was tough because they just weren't mature enough, they weren't ready and that's not a bad thing."

Currently, Michigan is one of only two states that allows children to begin school when they're 4.

Jan Ellis is with the Department of Education. She said the new legislation will give Michigan students more time to compete with other states.

"Beginning in 2014-15, Michigan will move from accessing students on the MEAP and MME to the smarter balanced assessments. These assessments are aligned with the common core standards and these are very rigorous standards and given that 85% of states have an early cut off date of September or earlier as far as when students can enter, over 25% of our students taking this assessment would have less time than students in other states to develop cognitively and emotionally and this would place Michigan at both a competitive and economic disadvantage."

Ellis said last month the Michigan Department of Education passed the legislation under certain conditions.

"For those children between that bubble of September 1st and December 1st, they want to ensure that there's a place for those students to continue to learn and so they supported a generic statement that basically encourages the legislature to provide adequate funding for early childhood experiences and those would be through like a great start readiness program, it could be through a developmental kindergarten. There are multiple different ways that that could happen"

The Education Department also proposed phasing in the change over the next three years.

That means if the legislation passes,  kids beginning in the fall would have to be 5 by November 1st. The next year, the cut off would be October 1st and the year after that would be the September 1st cut off date.

Amy Salogar said phasing in the legislation raises concerns.

"I am concerned a little bit about how they are going to implement this. I've heard that they're going to phase it in or that they're going to for this fall do November for the first date and next year will be October 1st and then the following year September. That concerns me because we've already done our kindergarten screening process for this fall and we haven't heard one way or another if that's how it's going to shake out.

A spokesperson from the Senate Education committee said the legislation still has a long way to go.

The committee passed the measure last month. Since then, the bill has been on the Senate floor awaiting a vote.

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