A few years ago, the N.C. General Assembly passed the Every Child Ready to Learn Act, which moved the cutoff for kindergarten from Oct. 16 to Aug. 31. Children now must be five years old by Aug. 31 to enter kindergarten in North Carolina.
And while there's always been a cutoff for kindergarten, that decision was a controversial one. It meant that some kids would end up spending an extra year in preschool.
A mom wrote me a couple of weeks ago to share her own story. Her daughter will turn five next year, just ten days after the Aug. 31 deadline.
She is considering an option that could allow her daughter early entry into kindergarten if she passes a battery of tests and interviews. The process requires parents hire a licensed psychologist and put together a portfolio of their child's work. That could cost the family between $400 and $800, she tells me. Once a child is accepted for early entry into kindergarten, there's still a three-month probationary period to pass. Children must turn four on or before April 16 to apply.
"I realize through my research this is a sensitive topic for some and there are strong and varying opinions between parents, teachers, school officials, and doctors/research analysts," the mom wrote me. "The truth of the matter is each child is different. We all can recognize and agree on this. As with any situation where a cutoff date is present, there are many factors in which someone can fall into a 'gray area' for numerous reasons."
"Has anyone been accepted into the early entry program or has anyone found any exception or way around this new cutoff date?" she asks. "By the way, I was a September baby with a later birth date than my child. The cutoff of course was in October and I started school at the ripe age of 4. I had a great school experience, and into middle school actually began relating better to children even a year ahead of me!"
Before I posed her question, I thought I'd find out a little bit more about the early entry into kindergarten. (Full disclosure: My younger daughter also has a September birthday, so I've been curious about this myself).
Deborah S. Connell, supporting school readiness coordinator at Wake County's Project Enlightenment, tells me she gets questions about early entry every year and there's no easy answer.
"Keeping in mind that early entry is designed for children who are so advanced in every area of development that delaying entry to kindergarten until they reach the legal age is a real detriment to their learning, you can imagine that there are very, very few children who would qualify," she tells me. "While it can be difficult to keep a very bright child challenged, every child who is above average in intelligence is not best served by early entry to kindergarten. My suggestion to parents is to read through the information available on the wcpss.net website regarding early entry - often parents are surprised at how stringent the standards are."
Among the standards: Students must be functioning two to three years beyond their peers; socially and developmentally mature enough to be in a structured school setting for a demanding school day; and display a thirst for knowledge consequently pushing the parents for new and challenging learning situations.
Click here for more information from Wake County about all of the requirements, which includes letters of recommendation, assessments, a portfolio and more. And here's information for Durham County, Orange County and Johnston County schools.
In Wake County, a tiny portion of this year's kindergarten class was admitted early. For this school year, there were 56 applicants for early entry into kindergarten, according to Wake County schools. Of those, 34 applications were approved. There are more than 12,000 kindergartners in Wake County for the 2011-12 school year.
I know the mom who emailed me would love to hear from people who have gone through the early entry into kindergarten process or who have decided to hold off for a year. Please share your experience and thoughts in the comments section below.
Go Ask Mom poses questions from readers every Wednesday in the Help a Mom series. If you have a question, click here to email it.