Connecticut is one of the last states to consider changing the entry age for kindergarten students. Obviously, this adjustment would have an impact on the entire K-12 system. Currently, children must be 5 by the end of the year to register. Often parents (especially those with boys) choose to delay entry for those born after the summer, in the hope that they will mature enough to be ready for what may be their first school experience. This practice, commonly known as “red-shirting” results in an age range within the classroom; some kindergarten students may be 4 when they begin, and others may be 6. Yet the entire practice of grouping students by age rather than ability needs re-thinking.
Grouping children by age is a factory paradigm. It is predicated on the belief that children of similar ages progress at the same rate. True, some children are not ready to begin school at age 5. However, some are more than ready at 4, while others may not be ready at 7. Birth order may play a significant role in a child’s school-readiness, as does a child’s home environment. I am a strong proponent of homogeneous grouping by ability rather than by age. Ability grouping provides much more flexibility than does grouping by age placement. Mastery of a specific skill can allow a child to be in an accelerated group in one subject, a mid-level group in another, and a remedial group in a third. In my experience as owner of Handle Associates, a private learning center that offers customized learning for each student, I can report that I consistently have students who demonstrate their willingness and ability to learn material that is deemed several years “above grade level” in their schools. And the converse is true as well. Students who need more time and a slower pace can benefit from the additional attention that they deserve.
For those who argue that ability grouping inhibits social interaction, I propose that the school day be structured in such a way that students can be with their age-mates during non-academic times like lunch, recess, and “specials.” The good of the students should be the first consideration in any decision.