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December 5, 2023

CT kindergarten age change: What to know about the new cutoff

YEHYUN KIM / CTMIRROR.ORG Principal Christine Laferrierre, left, and Paraprofessional Shirley Anderson talk in a kindergarten classroom at Casimir Pulaski Elementary in Meriden in 2021.

Beginning in the 2024-25 school year, Connecticut will require that all children enrolling in kindergarten turn 5 years old by Sept. 1.

Lawmakers approved the kindergarten age change during the 2023 legislative session. The previous cutoff was Jan. 1 of the following year.

But there’s an exception to the rule — parents/guardians of younger children can apply for a waiver to enroll their child in kindergarten early.

Here’s what to know about Connecticut’s kindergarten age change and the waiver process.

Is the new age requirement in line with other states?

Yes. Connecticut was the only state to have a Jan. 1 kindergarten cutoff date as of 2020, and most states require that children be 5 years old by the end of September.

There’s generally support for that age requirement among educators and developmental experts, though experts also stress that child development is not linear and varies child-to-child.

How can a parent/guardian apply to enroll their child early?

Families of younger children can submit a written request to their principal to enroll their child at a younger age.

The student must then undergo an assessment, conducted by school leadership, to “ensure that admitting such a child is developmentally appropriate,” according to the law.

That assessment is not discretionary and must be implemented if a parent or guardian requests it in writing, the state said in guidance titled “New Entry Age for Kindergarten: Considerations for Connecticut Schools.”

How will school districts assess children’s readiness for kindergarten?

The Department of Education has not provided specific guidelines for what the assessments must show or how schools should test students — and its “New Entry Age for Kindergarten” guidance says it will not identify an assessment tool for schools to use.

But the guidance did reference the CT Early Learning and Developmental Standards, which provide an overview of benchmarks for children ages 0-5, as a potential tool for schools.

Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said she doesn’t expect school districts to form one standardized assessment; rather, each school district will create its own test.

She said the assessments will likely involve looking at a child’s attention span, knowledge of letters and numbers and ability to pay attention and follow directions.

“Certainly it’s not a paper-and-pencil test, and it is a test that’s assessed one-on-one with the child,” Rabinowitz said. “Each district will go into and do that assessment in a way that they think is appropriate for them.”

Both Rabinowitz and Andrea Brinnel, an adjunct faculty member at UConn’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, said they expect some school districts will take a parent’s wishes for their child into account.

“I’ve heard that there are some districts who are just saying, ‘If a parent asks, we’re gonna let them start early,'” Brinnel said.

What will the kindergarten age change mean for preschools next year?

Early childhood educators and parents of infants and toddlers are particularly concerned about the additional strain the requirement will place on the early childhood education system, soon forced to accommodate 4-year-olds with fall birthdays for another year.

And without the funding to hire more teachers, the slots those older children remain in will no longer be available for new children to enroll, meaning many new parents could have a harder time returning to work as they wait for their children to be accepted off growing waitlists. The annual cost of one year of child care is about $13,000 in Connecticut.

The legislative change could affect as many as 9,000 families, a coalition of groups including Child Care for Connecticut’s Future Coalition, Women’s Business Development Council, United Way of Connecticut and Social Venture Partners CT said in an open letter to Gov. Ned Lamont and legislative leaders this fall.

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