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Your Dracut Today

UPDATED: School Committee Rejects Change In Kindergarten Cutoff Age

Jun 13, 2019 02:00AM ● By Lisa Redmond

Dracut School Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone.

DRACUT – The father of a 4-year-old Dracut boy, whose birthday about a month after the Aug. 31 cutoff for Kindergarten next year, criticized the school district’s “one size fits all’’ cutoff date that has created a loophole and “division by class’’ for those families who can afford private Kindergarten and those who can’t.

For months, parents Jonathan and Laura Muollo have asked the School Committee to consider changing - or at least making an exception for their son - regarding the school district’s requirement that children must be 5 years old by Aug. 31 to enroll in Kindergarten the following September.

At the committee meeting on Monday, Jonathan Muollo again made the plea for the committee to “best meet all the needs of the students’’ by at least screening his son to see if he is emotionally and cognitively ready for Kindergarten.

 Muollo added that parents who send their children to private Kindergarten “bypass’’ the school district’s arbitrary cutoff date and then have their children enter first grade in Dracut regardless of their birth date. 

School Committee member Sue Koufogazos.

 This creates a “loophole’’ in the system and “puts working class parents at a disadvantage,’’ he said.

But the committee decided not to alter the Kindergarten entrance age requirements, following School Superintendent Steven Stone’s presentation on the issue.

“All districts in our region, as well as the overwhelming majority of districts across Massachusetts…have established a cutoff date,’’ Stone told the committee. Based on review of 15 relevant studies researched by him and Campbell Elementary School Principal Angela Kimble, Stone wrote, “Contrary to the benefits of starting school younger, much of the available research describe the benefits of starting at an older age.’’

A study by Cannon and Lipscomb states that “students who are older when they enter Kindergarten have better elementary math and reading scores (the subjects most often measured). These effects appear to persist into the eighth grade, albeit with small magnitudes.’’

Rather than upending the Kindergarten enrollment policy, Committee member Susan Koufogazos said the Muollos have asked to their son screened to see if he is ready to enter Kindergarten early. “But there is no reliable format,’’ she said.

Stone said quoted from a 1995 position paper in The National Association for the Education of Young Children which states: “It is often assumed that tests exists to reliability determine which children are ‘ready’ to enter school. Because of the nature of child development and how children learn, it is extremely difficult to develop reliable and valid measures of young children’s abilities. Preschool children, by nature, are not good test takers.’’

As a result, The NAEYC continues, “Therefore, the only legally and ethically defensible criterion for determining school entry is whether the child has reached the legal chronological age of school entry. While arbitrary, this criterion is also fair.’’

Koufogazos asked if there was any research regarding the impact of early entry for gifted students. Stone responded that looking at the impact on the gifted student was not part of his research, however, the school district has the ability to screen for special education-related issues but it doesn’t have a test to screen for “gifted” students.

“To identify someone as gifted by testing requires extensive time (similar to) a (special education) Individual Education Plan. The school department could not take on that issue,’’ Stone said.

When reached by Your Dracut Today after the meeting, Laura Muollo emailed this comment, "What we have been advocating for is not to move the cut-off date, but rather to implement a careful screening process whereby children who narrowly miss the cut-off date who are intellectually, academically and socially ready may be selected for early admission."

As for studies, "There are ample, well-documented studies which unequivocally demonstrate the benefits of such policies for advanced learners, as well as a number of available resources for properly implementing such a policy. We are disappointed that these facts have been disregarded,'' she wrote.

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