There isn’t a set of tests that determine if a child is ready for kindergarten.
Some local school teachers and administrators said it’s a determination based on age guidelines set at school districts, and the observation of a child’s social, mental and emotional status by parents, guardians, doctors, preschool teachers and/or others involved in the child’s life.
“There is no concrete answer to kindergarten readiness,” State College Area Supervisor of Elementary Education Vernon Bock said. “They come to school at different levels, but our teachers work hard to meet the needs of the kiddos.”
It includes offering camps for soon-to-be students that allow them to experience a day in the life of a kindergartener by riding on a school bus; going to classes; meeting their peers and teachers; learning school etiquette; and even learning the rules of a fire drill.
Bock said instructional support teachers also conduct screenings and meet with families through the first two weeks of school.
This year, State College Area has about 422 students enrolled in kindergarten.
“They basically go the extra mile to meet the needs of students and families,” Bock said.
But if a student isn’t ready for kindergarten, he or she can be held back.
It’s a term colloquially called red-shirting, but known as an option that allows parents to delay the start of school for their child until they think he or she is ready.
However, Pennsylvania requires a student to be enrolled in school no later than the age of 8.
“Generally, experts in schools work with parents to determine kindergarten readiness,” Bock said. “We have reading specialists and psychologists, and often times the teacher will consult with the child’s preschool teacher or doctor to see where they’re at.”
But it’s also not something families should be worried about.
“It’s not often, but it happens,” Bock said. “It’s a collaborative decision, and encouraged to be considered if there are obvious signs. In most cases, it’s a case-by-case basis, and not something to be made lightly. In my time as an educator and administrator, I’ve seen both positives and negatives of the decision.”
This is Bock’s first year in the State College Area School District; he moved to the area this year from Virginia.
State College Area has a list of suggested skills a student should have before entering kindergarten.
It includes sharing with others; playing cooperatively with other children; separating from parents without being upset; listening attentively; recognizing rhyming sounds; having a general sense of the time of day; being able to cut with scissors; speaking understandably in complete sentences; bouncing a ball; recognizing objects; and more.
Bock said if a kindergarten-aged child doesn’t understand all of the suggestions, it’s nothing to worry about either.
“Kids have high retention,” he said. “They might not know something one week but will get it the next.”
It’s a similar set of guidelines at other schools in Centre County.
Lori Sullivan is a kindergarten teacher at Penns Valley Elementary and Intermediate School.
It’s a position she’s been in for about 28 years — and she has just about seen it all, including delayed entry into kindergarten, she said.
She said the best information teachers and administrators at Penns Valley Area can provide to a student who they don’t know firsthand is a set of expectations, benchmarks and curricular information similar to that at State College Area.
“Each year we may find a few students that register in our district where delayed entry has occurred,” Sullivan said. “Parents know their children best. If a parent is considering delaying entry, they will often come into the school to speak to principals and, on occasion, teachers.”
Kindergarten readiness conversations, Sullivan said, most often take place with the preschool and/or child care providers and the parents of the future student.
“If a parent is having a difficult time making a choice as to when to send their child to kindergarten, the more information preschools and schools can provide, the better informed decisions parents are then able to make,” she said.
Penns Valley Area, too, offers what it calls a KinderCamp that serves about 40 students.
Sullivan said it’s a three-week program held in partnership with Cen-Clear Child Services and is staffed by two district kindergarten teachers.
Kindergarten registration at Penns Valley Area also includes developmental assessments and observation, and offers families learning material to work on before the start of school.
During assessments, a school professional observes how the child performs on each task, and how he or she executes the activity.
“We make ourselves available to meet and speak with parents, as the parents and students are making the transition to kindergarten,” Sullivan said.
Another option is for a student to repeat kindergarten.
Sullivan said it’s rare, but does occur, and is another decision that is “not taken lightly.”
“The parents are kept informed all through the process and are a vital part of the decision-making process,” Sullivan said. “The parents are the one to ultimately make the decision.”
Many factors including academic, social and developmental growth are considered when deciding if a kindergarten student needs to repeat the grade, Sullivan said.
But whether a child completes the grade, repeats it or is held back, administrators and teachers said all decisions are in the best interest of the student.
“We’re not here to force a decision,” Bock said. “We can make decisions collaboratively that is the right fit for the child and their family.”