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June 14, 2011 2 min read
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| VIEWS | SARA MEAD’S POLICY NOTEBOOK

Cut Off!

There’s been a trend of states’ moving up kindergarten cutoff dates over the last few decades, such that, while it was once the norm for kids to start kindergarten at 5, the trend has moved closer to nearly age 6.

Basically, the rationale has gone something like this: As academic expectations in elementary school increase, kindergarten is starting to look a lot more like 1st grade used to, and kids who aren’t yet 5 at the start of the school year just aren’t developmentally ready, so let’s have kids start school later.

This may appear to make sense, but it doesn’t.

Age is hardly the sole determinant of a child’s readiness for kindergarten: Early-childhood experiences and individual development play a big role. That underscores the importance of leaving decisions about when to enter kindergarten up to parents and of providing access to quality early-learning opportunities so more kids are ready when they reach the entry age.

For children whose families can’t afford quality pre-K, a delay often means another year of missed learning in which they fall further behind their peers. Basically, states have used moving kindergarten cutoff dates to shift more of the burden of preparing kids to reach 3rd grade standards onto families, without saying so.

And that’s not even taking into account the implications that kids who start kindergarten a year later are also a year older throughout their education, which research suggests may have negative consequences.

All this speaks to two things: First, we need to complement student expectations with better access to high-quality pre-K and other early-learning opportunities. Second, we need to start thinking more in terms of a continuum of children’s development from early childhood through elementary school.

Regardless of where we set the kindergarten cutoff date, kids are going to be at different points when they start, and our schools need to be able to support all of them. —Sara Mead

| NEWS | SCHOOLED IN SPORTS

Setting a Baseline For Concussions

It will only be a matter of time before every state has some sort of concussion law on the books for young athletes, but there’s one area that has been largely unexplored in these new laws: baseline concussion tests.

Tests like Impact—which takes only 20 minutes per test and would cost a school $1,000 per year for 1,000 tests—create a baseline of what the athlete’s healthy brain looks like. When players are suspected of having concussions, they retake the test to compare results.

The National Hockey League and Major League Baseball require all players to take the Impact test. A number of high schools have begun administering the baseline tests to student-athletes, too. Some states (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New York, and New Jersey) certainly deserve more praise than others in terms of early adoption of the baseline tests, but there’s no reason not to see more.

For the schools that don’t want to plunk down $1,000 a year for Impact, Gerard Gioia, the chief neuropsychologist at Children’s National Medical Center, and Jason Mihalik, a concussion specialist for the Matthew A. Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center, have an answer. Their application for mobile phones and devices, released last month, takes users through a checklist of concussion symptoms and alerts as to whether or not a concussion is suspected. It was designed for nonmedical uses, but users can email their results to a doctor, too. —Bryan Toporek

A version of this article appeared in the June 15, 2011 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week

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