Not only is kindergarten education a fascinating topic, but its occurrence almost at the beginning of formal education raises a number of related issues, such as redshirting, high-stakes kindergarten testing, and entrance age.
You may have heard of the practice of redshirting college football players—that is, holding a player out a year for him to grow and mature. The theory is that the extra year will produce a better football player. The same practice applies to kindergarten children. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that about 10 percent of entering kindergarten children are redshirted—held out of school for a year (Education Statistics Quarterly, 2001). Parents and administrators who practice redshirting think that the extra year gives children an opportunity to mature intellectually, socially, and physically. On the one hand, redshirting might have some benefit for children who are immature and whose birth dates fall close to the cut-off for school entrance. On the other hand, some affluent parents redshirt their children, their sons in particular, because they want them to be the oldest members of the kindergarten class. They reason that their children will be class leaders, will get more attention from the teachers, and will have another year under their belts, all the better to handle the increasing demands of the kindergarten curriculum.
High-Stakes Kindergarten Testing
Children at all grade levels are being subjected to more testing. For kindergarten children, this testing includes not only achievement testing but also developmental and readiness screening. Developmental screening, as the term implies, is designed to assess current developmental status and identify children’s language, cognitive, and social-emotional delays. Traditionally, this information is used to modify the existing curriculum and/or provide specific learning activities and programs to help children learn. This is what developmental practice is all about.
However, increasing numbers of kindergarten children are confronting readiness screening, designed to determine whether children have the cognitive and behavioral skills necessary for kindergarten success. Unfortunately, many children may be screened out of kindergarten, rather than have a school experience that will help them succeed. And many of the children who are screened out are the children who need a high-quality school program. In addition, there are a number of other concerns with readiness tests:
- Many lack validity; that is, they don’t measure what they say they are measuring.
- Many readiness tests measure things that require teaching, such as colors, letters, and shapes. Consequently, children who would benefit most from a kindergarten program are judged not ready.
- There is a mismatch between what readiness tests measure and what kindergarten teachers say is important for school success (Stipek, 2002).
Although our discussion of high-stakes testing occurs in the context of kindergarten, high-stakes testing exists in a much larger school and educational context. With a current emphasis on state and local accountability, there will be increasing pressure for teachers at all levels to make decisions based on high-stakes tests.
Kindergarten Entrance Age
Undoubtedly, there will be ongoing debate and discussion about the appropriate age for kindergarten entrance. Current legislative practices indicate that states and school districts will continue to push back the kindergarten entrance age. For example, Maryland raised the age at which children can be admitted to kindergarten; children must now be five by September 1 rather than the previous date of December 31. The state’s superintendent of schools said the change was necessary because of the increased academic focus in today’s kindergartens (Starr, 2002).
Rather than the constant juggling of entrance ages, what are needed are early childhood programs designed to serve the needs of all children, regardless of the ages at which they enter school. At the heart of this issue is disagreement about whether maturation or school is the more potent factor in children’s achievement. Research studies comparing age and school effects suggest that educational intervention contributes more to children’s cognitive competence than does maturation (Stipek, 2002).
These and other issues will continue to fuel the educational debates and will make teaching in kindergarten even more fascinating as the years go by.
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