Friday, April 26, 2013

Positive benefits of delaying kindergarten.

While the push at the Minnesota state legislature is to get kids into institutional education at earlier and earlier ages, 3 and 4, here's a WCCO news story and Rand Corporation study suggesting delaying kindergarten has significant educational benefits.

Here's a link to the WCCO story.
Is five too young for kindergarten?

Some parents now think six is the magic age for starting school, especially for boys.

Take Edina.

More than half the boys there with summer birthdays don’t go to kindergarten until they are six years old.

The same holds true for only 20 percent of the girls.

In kindergarten classes at Edina’s Highlands Elementary there is often more than a year difference in students’ ages.

Veteran teacher Katie Oberle says emotional readiness is the most important factor parents should consider when deciding when to send a child to school. She said,

“It’s sharing, it’s being able to follow directions, it’s being able to communicate,” she said.

As for why parents make the call for boys and not girls, Oberle says boys, as a group, often trail in key areas.

“Boys tend to be…a little less mature, but it mostly tends to be in their verbal language skills,” Oberle says.

Studies on the topic differ.

A 2006 University of California study says children who are older in kindergarten do better. They are placed in more advanced classes, and that advantage just builds as they get older.
 According to the Rand Corporation study:
Entering Kindergarten Later Significantly Boosts Test Scores at Entry

To understand the cognitive effects of entering kindergarten later, Datar looked at academic achievement as measured by math and reading test scores on standardized tests. The results indicate that delaying kindergarten entrance is associated with a significant increase in math and reading scores at kindergarten entry. A one-year delay in kindergarten entrance increases math and reading scores by 6 points and more than 5 points, respectively. Also, the findings suggest that previous studies that failed to account for the selection bias underestimate the effect of delaying kindergarten age.

Benefits Do Not Fade and Are Even Greater for Disadvantaged Children

As noted earlier, there is concern that any positive benefits may not persist and that forcing disadvantaged children to wait a year may thus be counter-productive. However, as the figure shows, these concerns seem unfounded.
Scores on standardized tests administered at two time points — once at the start of kindergarten and again at the end of first grade — were examined. The dots reflect the mean score for children entering at either age 5 or 6; as discussed earlier, we see that children entering later do better. The x’s reflect the gain in the test score across the two assessment periods. We find that the initial advantage not only persists but in fact increases by half a point in math and by a point in reading during the first two years in school. This suggests that delaying kindergarten entrance has a positive effect on test score gains in the early school years.
The figure also shows that the benefits of delaying kindergarten are even greater for children from poor families. Delaying kindergarten entrance from age 5 to age 6 increases the math and reading test score gains among poor children — the distance between the dots and the x’s. This is most notable in looking at math score gains — poor children entering at age 5 have almost no gain, while those entering at age 6 have a noticeable gain — but it is also true for reading scores. By contrast, both younger and older entrants from families that are not poor gain the same amount across testing periods.
Other studies, writings I've seen suggest that the academic benefits of delaying kindergarten disappear by the 3rd grade.  That's similar to the academic results of kids who attend preschool programs and all day kindergarten compared to students who don't.  It's a wash by the third grade as well.  If that's the case, then the added cost savings of students not attending kindergarten is a net plus.  I suspect another benefit is kids who delay kindergarten are better able to cope with the negative influences they encounter in an institutional learning setting.  (Other studies point to the more aggressive, anti-social behavior the more time kids spend in preschool programs.) 

The Minnesota legislature, in it's one size fits all approach to education, is pouring millions into incentivizing parents to put their children into preschool and all day kindergarten.  They may just be moving in the direction an increasing number of parents prefer not to go.

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