SB 1381 and Transition Kindergarten

Posted on 10 August 2010

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By Catherine Atkin

Next month, more than 450,000 children across the state will enter kindergarten. Although most of these new students will be 5 years old, nearly a quarter of the entering kindergarteners will be only 4 years old, some of the youngest students in the nation.  During this week’s final deliberations, the Assembly Appropriations Committee will hear SB 1381, sponsored by Senator Joe Simitian. If the bill passes and continues to move forward, eventually receiving the governor’s signature, it will help to ensure that all of California’s kindergarteners enter school ready to succeed.

California’s children begin kindergarten at a younger age than kids in almost any other state, often before they have the skills they need to meet the challenges of kindergarten. We are one of only four states that allow children as young as 4 years old to attend kindergarten; at the same time, California has some of the highest standards for what we expect children to learn in kindergarten classrooms.  Currently, if children turn age 5 by Dec. 2, they can attend kindergarten. SB 1381, sponsored by Senator Joe Simitian, will change the kindergarten entry date in California from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1, so all children enter kindergarten at age 5.

Each year, 120,000 4 year olds enter kindergarten, including approximately 49,000 English Language Learners and 74,000 students who attend Title I schools. Changing the kindergarten entry date in California will generate savings that could be used to give these 4 year olds an additional year of preparation before kindergarten. This transitional kindergarten program uses existing levels of education funding, teachers and classroom facilities to provide children who turn 5 years old between September and December with a year of early education. This year of ­­­transitional kindergarten will allow them to mature socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically, and help them develop the skills they need to succeed in the year before kindergarten.

High-quality early childhood programs like transitional kindergarten develop a strong foundation for learning. Research shows that moving the kindergarten entry date up increases test scores by as much as 27%. Additionally, children who attend high-quality early learning programs are less likely to drop out of high school, be held back a grade or be placed in special education, and are more likely to score better on reading and math achievement tests. Studies also show that high-quality early education helps narrow the achievement gap and offers one of the highest returns of any public investment – more than $7 for every dollar spent.

Recognizing these benefits, communities across California have already implemented this innovative reform. Our state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified School District, will begin a new pilot program this year; when adopted districtwide, it will serve more than 11,000 4 year olds.  Additionally, Palo Alto, Torrance, Orange County and other districts all already offer their youngest learners an extra year of preparation before starting kindergarten. Fresno and Sacramento will launch also their pilot programs this fall.

It is clear that SB 1381 and its transitional kindergarten program have the backing of research and statewide momentum. California policymakers should support this unique opportunity to ensure our children are ready to learn and succeed in school, compete in the global economy and contribute to thriving communities.


Catherine Atkin is president of Preschool California, a nonprofit advocacy organization working to increase access to high-quality preschool for all of California’s children, starting with those who need it most.

I am a bit repulsed by the news coverage and this site's position on SB 1381. Everyone seems to forget that each public school has its Kinder team assess each student for readiness prior to enrollment for the current school year.

I happen to have been a 4 year old who started kindergarten many years ago. In fact my birthday, Dec. 1, was the day before the cutoff. The result? I am an attorney and graduated as valedictorian from my law school.

But there is more, my daughter is currently a fifth grader. She started kindergarten at age 4. She has been the top of her class every year. In fact, her STAR test results for last year were 456 for English-Language Arts (Advanced) and 462 for Mathematics (Advanced). Not bad for a student "destined for failure", which SB 1381 seems to indicate as the result for every 4 year old who enters kindergarten.

Further, my son just began kindergarten. He also is a four year old. At his enrollment the evaluators were impressed with his letter/number skills and writing along with his creative art and social skills. His teacher also feels that he is one of the brighter students in her class, and has indicated that we as parents did a good job preparing him for kindergarten. Similar statements were made about his older sister when she was in kindergarten.

Clearly SB 1381 will do nothing more than punish students who are ready to enter kindergarten, by promoting a theoretical policy forcing students to delay enrollment because of an unfounded fear of their academic failure. The real answer is to encourage all parents to have their children enrolled in First 5 Preschool programs, not to delay four year old enrollment, and allow 4 year olds to enter kindergarten if they are ready to do so.

As a public school Kindergarten teacher, I have to disagree that this bill is a punishment to children. In fact, I see it as a gift to children who just aren't ready to start Kindergarten. We do assess most of the children before they start Kindergarten, but we only spend at most 10 minutes assessing each child. This really does not give you enough information to tell whether or not a child is ready to start Kindergarten. And whether or not teacher feels a student is not ready for school is irrelevant, because public schools must accept all children who meet the age requirement.

Preschool is also not available for all children. There is limited space at the FIrst 5 Preschool program and financial huge burdens for families make too much money to receive free preschool, but not enough to afford to pay for preschool.

Many children are also not as fortunate as some to have parents who have been able to prepare them for Kindergarten. And while you can argue that the parents need to take more responsibility for their child's education, the children are the ones who ultimately suffer. Every child should have the same opportunity to be successful in school, regardless of who their parents are. This bill will give those students who may be young or not ready to start Kindergarten a chance to be successful. Children who are ready for Kindergarten are allowed to start even if they are 4. All the bill does is provide young students an opportunity to spend a year maturing and developing the skills they will need to be successful in school.

In reply to Incorrect Assumptions, it is wonderful that you and your children have done so well entering Kindergarten at age four. With this Senate Bill that would still be possible because if parents would like to enroll their four year old they may do so on a case by case basis. Nobody is forgetting that each Kinder Team assess incoming students. This may be something that your school is able to do, but that is not the case for every school in California.

Not every parent is able to put their child in a preschool or Kindergarten preparation program. I agree that the next step should be encouraging legislation to provide some type of preschool program at no cost (the only way everyone will benefit). At the end of your post you mentioning allowing four year olds to enter if they are ready to do so and that is the goal here. Parents can sign their four year old up if they feel they are ready.

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As a teacher, I disagree that changing the enrollment age of Kindergarten students is punishment. There is provision in the AB 1381 bill for exceptions being made. Also, the school where I used to teach did NOT assess students before school started and it is virtually impossible to have a student in school and then tell the parents their child is not ready and have them take the child out until the next year. For the most part, children who are not 5 before entering school are at great risk to not meet the ever increasing benchmarks/standards set for kindergarten. These students become "at-risk" students, when another year in preschool or another similar program would go a long way to prevent this problem from happening,as well as lessening failure for these students right at the beginning of their school career.

starting years are the most important for any kid. my just brought a nap mat for my daughter for the kindergarten.