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Governor Signs Kindergarten Readiness Bill

Children Must Be Five-Years-Old to Start

October 7, 2010

Last Thursday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, authored by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto). Simitian’s measure requires children to be five years old to start kindergarten, and provides an additional year of “Transitional Kindergarten” for children with fall birthdays.

California had been one of a handful of states that permit children to start as young as four years and nine months. Now California will join the majority of states who require children to be five by September 1. The change has long been sought by teachers, who consistently report that children younger than five are the ones most likely to flounder and fall behind. The act, SB 1381, also establishes a Transitional Kindergarten, the first year of a two-year kindergarten, for children with fall birthdays (September 2 to December 2) who will be too young under the new cutoff date to enter regular kindergarten.

“This is a victory for kids on two fronts,” said Simitian. “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.”

In his signing statement, Gov. Schwarzenegger said, “SB 1381 is a landmark accomplishment for early childhood developmental education in California, and I’m proud to sign this important legislation. The best investment we can make in the future of our state is to provide a quality education to California’s children, and this legislation ensures that their academic careers are built on a strong foundation. I commend Senator Joe Simitian for authoring SB 1381 and for his steadfast dedication to California’s students.”

California currently requires new kindergarten students to be five by December 2 of the school year, one of the latest cutoff dates in the nation. The Kindergarten Readiness Act moves the cutoff date to September 1, phasing in the change a month at a time over three years, beginning in the fall of 2012.

For those “young fives” (children with fall birthdays) whose kindergarten is delayed, the bill creates a Transitional Kindergarten to build 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), and will be funded by the money that otherwise would have been spent on regular kindergarten. Some districts around the state already have Transitional Kindergartens for students who need more time to develop academically and socially.

“Today’s kindergarten classroom is a much different place than most of us experienced,” said Simitian. “We’re placing real academic demands on our kids, and the youngest are struggling to keep up. The evidence shows that giving these younger kindergarteners an extra year can make a big difference in their long-term success.”

The California Kindergarten Association has pressed for an older entry age for 20 years. Simitian was prompted to take up the cause when two teachers in his Senate district – kindergarten teacher Diana Argenti and reading specialist Natalie Bivas – presented him with a petition, signed by 289 teachers, requesting the September 1 cutoff date. Both expressed delight that the bill has become law.

“All children will have a chance to be successful at school right from the start,” said Bivas, “and I will no longer have to watch four-and-a-half-year-olds struggle with curriculum that is too difficult.” Said Argenti, “This change in age will be of great benefit to California’s children, ensuring not only that they will be more academically ready for the curriculum that is currently in place, but also that they will have the social and emotional maturity needed to succeed.”

“This innovative reform gives California an unparalleled opportunity to provide a high-quality early learning opportunity that prepares our children to succeed in school,” said Catherine Atkin, president of Preschool California.

The experience of teachers matches the findings of researchers. A 2008 report by the Public Policy Institute of California reviewed 14 recent rigorous studies on entrance age. The report suggests that “increasing California’s entry age will likely have a number of benefits, including boosting student achievement test scores.”  Several of these studies also suggest that older students are less likely to be retained or to be diagnosed with a learning disability, while having a higher likelihood of attending college and earning higher wages. 

California has been one of just four states with a cut-off date later than December 1. About one-quarter of California’s children start kindergarten before age five. In order to provide flexibility for children with late birthdays who are ready for kindergarten, the bill protects an important provision in existing law that allows for a child born after September 1 to be admitted to kindergarten on a case-by-case basis, if the parent or guardian applies for early admission and the school district agrees that it would be in the best interest of the child.

California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, the California Performance Review, and the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence have each called for an earlier kindergarten cutoff date. The bill was supported by the California Preschool Business Advisory Council, California State PTA, the Association of California School Administrators, and more than 40 other business, educational, civic and child-advocate organizations.

Source:  Sen. Joe Simitian’s office, EdBrief staff