ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s kindergarten classes could get a little older in the coming years, according to a proposal approved by the State Board of Education yesterday.
Children would have to turn 5 on or before Sept. 1, instead of Dec. 31 to be eligible for kindergarten under recommendations made by a committee assigned to study improvements in early education programs. The school board will hear public comment on the recommendations and will vote to approve it at future meetings.
The recommendation made by the kindergarten committee, a 15-member panel appointed earlier this year, were made in part to help students meet state testing standards.
“We need to conform to the needs of the students rather than have them conform to us,” said committee Chairwoman Jacqueline Haas, Harford County Public Schools superintendent.
The rigorous testing employed in later grades has increased the difficulty of the kindergarten curriculum, according to the committee.
“While research does not provide conclusive evidence that a change in the `cut-off’ date would be more beneficial to children, several policymaking groups consider an adjustment of the `cut off’ date an effective strategy to make the curriculum more developmentally appropriate with an older age (group),” the committee’s report stated.
Maryland is one of four states with the Dec. 31 cut-off date.
The age change would be phased in beginning next school year by being be pushed back a month each year until 2007.
Mandatory kindergarten in Maryland has been in effect since 1992, with about 54,000 students enrolled this year, said Rolf Grafwallner, early learning section chief at the state Department of Education.
About 10,000 children in 2007 would be left out of kindergarten if the recommendation is approved, but parents would be able to request waivers from their local school boards so their children could start at a different age, he said.
About 20,000 children are in pre-kindergarten programs, which are aimed at students living in poverty and at-risk of falling behind. About 3,000 of the students affected by the date change in 2007 would be qualified as at-risk.
The panel also recommended full-day kindergarten be implemented statewide, something the State Board of Education pushed for last year. Several counties already have full-day kindergarten, but it is not fully funded by the state.
A study conducted earlier this year in Montgomery County found that 71 percent of at-risk students who attend full-day kindergartens mastered reading fundamentals by the end of the year, compared to 54 percent of those enrolled a half day.
State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick last year outlined a proposal to implement full-day kindergarten, but a $60 million General Assembly bill to fund the program failed.
This year, the Commission on Education Finance, Equity and Excellence, charged with overhauling the state’s education funding system, is recommending $1.1 billion in increased state spending for public education, including a plan for full-day kindergarten.