LAUSD pushes for transitional kindergarten program

02.12.2011 | Asian Journal | Joseph Pimentel

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) officials are pushing a new pre-K pilot program for parents whose children are kindergarten age ready but may not have the maturity or education preparedness to handle the rigors of regular kindergarten.

During the last fall year, LAUSD implemented 36 pilot programs and began offering Transition Kindergarten classes after California passed a law earlier last year changing the age in which parents can enroll their children in kindergarten.

The law, California Senate Bill 1381, changes the kindergarten birthday cut-off dates from December 2 to September 1. 

Prior to the law changing, parents could enroll their child in kindergarten as long as the child turns five by December 2. The new law will change that to September 1 starting in the 2013-2014 school year.

Schools across California will begin to implement the changes over the next three years, pushing the cut-off date a month earlier each year.

Next year, the cut-off date will be November 1; the following year will be October 1, until it falls on September 1 in school year 2013-2014.

State and LAUSD officials said the change was necessary because they found many four-and-a-half-year-old children having a difficult time adjusting to the academically demanding kindergarten.

“Today’s kindergarten classroom is a much different place than most of us experienced,” said State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), who authored the legislation.

“We’re placing real academic demands on our kids, and the youngest are struggling to keep up. The evidence shows that giving these younger  kindergarteners an extra year can make a big difference in their long term success.”

Simitian cited a 2008 report by the Public Policy Institute of California that reviewed 14 rigorous studies on how entrance age affects student outcomes in the short and long term. 

The report found that “increasing California’s entry age will likely have a number of benefits, including boosting student achievement test scores.”  It added, that older students are less likely to be retained or to be diagnosed with a learning disability, while having a higher likelihood of attending college and earning higher wages.

Fuentes-Campa, the principal for Kingsley Elementary, which offers the transitional kindergarten program, explains that today, children attending kindergarten are on a “fast track to assessment” and some children especially those in economically disadvantaged homes are left behind.

“About 50 percent of LAUSD students did not go to pre-school,” said Ruth Yoon, an administrator of early childhood education for the LAUSD. “If you feel that your child is not academically ready, there is now an option for you.”

Yoon said transition kindergarten would allow those children who have never attended preschool or are not socially mature enough to grow and develop academically in their own pace with this new program.

The fact is, many parents who enroll their child in LAUSD kindergarten do not have the financial resources to enroll their child in a preschool, said Yoon.

“What we are doing is providing these children a tremendous opportunity and foundation to succeed academically and maturity,” said Ernesto Saldana, a statewide field director for Preschool California.

Negative perception

Despite the advantages of the transitional kindergarten program, LAUSD officials and educators are having a hard time convincing parents to enroll their children in the new pilot program.

“Many of the parents we’ve spoken with do not want to enroll their child because there is a perception that the child is being held back or [that they will have] to take kindergarten twice,” said Yoon. “But they don’t really understand that this is a gift of time. Some children need that extra time to develop. It’s not just academic, there are other factors involved.”

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