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Burbank Unified prepares for kindergarten age shift

State law means new birthday cut-off date for incoming school children.

November 11, 2011|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
  • Parent Maite Cervik reads "Put Me in the Zoo" to 1st graders at Providencia Elementary School in Burbank on Friday, September 23, 2011. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
Parent Maite Cervik reads "Put Me in the Zoo"…

Burbank Unified officials have outlined plans to increase the minimum age for incoming kindergarten students while simultaneously launching a new program to serve those who don’t make the modified cut-off date.

The move will bring the district into compliance with new state legislation designed to eliminate younger children from the classroom who experts say sometimes can be unprepared.

The Kindergarten Readiness Act, signed into law in 2010 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, requires that all students entering kindergarten in 2014 must turn 5 by Sept. 1 – three months earlier than the current Dec. 1 cutoff date.

It also mandates a special pre-kindergarten program — dubbed transitional kindergarten — for those born between September and December, meaning that some students will actually be eligible for two years of instruction before starting first grade.

Transitional kindergarten is free and voluntary.

“We are one of only four states currently that have Dec. 1 as the cutoff,” Sharon Cuseo, director of assessment and accountability, said at the Nov. 3 school board meeting. “Everybody else really does start closer to the beginning of the school year so their kids are older.”

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Burbank Unified will phase in the changes incrementally, officials said. Starting in 2012, the birthday cut-off date will be shifted to Nov. 1, and students born between Nov. 1 and Dec. 1 will be eligible to enroll in transitional kindergarten.

In 2013, the cut-off date moves to Oct. 1, with students born between Oct. 1 and Dec. 1 eligible for the new program. And by 2014, all incoming kindergarten students will have to be 5 years old by Sept. 1, with students born between Sept. 1 and Dec. 1 eligible for transitional kindergarten.

The program will be hosted at select Burbank Unified sites, Director of Elementary Education Tom Kissinger said, adding that Horace Mann Elementary School and the Burbank Adult School are among several currently under consideration.

“Once our students participate in the transitional kindergarten, they would go to their home school,” Kissinger said.

District officials currently are working on developing curriculum, and all transitional kindergarten classes will be taught by fully credentialed teachers, Kissinger said.

“In a lot of ways, it is going to look very similar to traditional kindergarten,” Kissinger said. “The activities calendar and class configuration are going to be similar.”

The shifting of the birthday cutoff date was largely driven by concerns that children who start kindergarten at the age of 4 struggle to keep pace with their older classmates. Increasing the minimum age requirement could improve long-term academic performance, officials say.

“At almost every school we have teachers who are always wondering what to do about these kids who are kind of on the younger end and really seem like they need more time,” Kissinger said. “Well, what we are going to be doing is giving them more time and we are going to be giving them a better chance at being successful with this program.”

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