Halfway through summer: Is your child ready for kindergarten?

Based on most US school district calendars, we are about halfway through the fun and sun of summer. While K-12 education is undergoing many changes—on both the teaching and learning sides—a multi-direction emphasis on early learning and its indicators for future academic success mean many states are re-examining kindergarten readiness assessments.

For example, in the Midwest, the Michigan Department of Education describes the Kindergarten Entry Assessment (KEA) as “an authentic observational system (provided by Teaching Strategies GOLD) for assessing children in the first 60 days of kindergarten.” Similarly, in Ohio, the Department of Education has announced that “Beginning with the 2014-15 school year, a new kindergarten readiness assessment will replace the KRA-L. The new assessment includes ways for teachers to measure a child’s school readiness. Ohio’s Early Learning and Development Standards (birth to kindergarten entry) are the basis for the new assessment. It has six components: social skills (including social and emotional development, and approaches toward learning), mathematics, science, social studies, language and literacy, and physical well-being and motor development.”

The Internet is abuzz with whether too much (or too little) pressure is being put on kindergartners. After all, virtually no two kids reach every milestone at the same time or in the same way. For the most part, kindergarten readiness assessments are not intended to keep kids from starting but to help parents know where their child falls in terms of basic expectations. In fact, even the practice of redshirting—or delaying—kindergarten starting age is controversial, with evidence existing both in favor and in opposition of the supposed benefits.

Last year Dina Abou Salem, reporting for ABC’s Good Morning America, presented “’Redshirting’ in Kindergarten Still Subject to Debate,” suggesting that some parents even delay kindergarten start times in hopes of their child gaining a competitive athletic advantage down the road. The term redshirting, borrowed from the long-time practice in college athletics of allowing some student athletes to practice with the team but not see game play or avoiding play to extend varsity eligibility by a year, when applied to kindergarten, can result in teachers having 6-year-olds and 4 ½-year-olds in the same classroom, a big developmental jump at this age, and one that often poses challenges.

What’s a parent to do? For one thing, becoming familiar with your state’s kindergarten assessment tool is important. Talking in detail to and networking with parents of little ones just ahead (age-wise) or behind your own, can also provide context and quell concerns.

Learning materials that introduce and reinforce readiness skills such as ABCs, early counting and number work, and pre-reading/pre-writing skills remain a great way to boost both parents’ and preschoolers’ confidence, regardless of state assessments or decisions about “young fives” and other preschool/kindergarten options.

“Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education.”—Martin Luther King Jr.