Whether or not a child is “ready” for school has been a topic of considerable debate. In the past, maturational views of readiness, which advocate school entry only for those children deemed to be developmentally ready, dominated ideas about school readiness. According to this view, readiness for school is determined by children’s level of biological development. A child who is developmentally young needs only extra time to develop those characteristics that define readiness. This view manifests itself in holding children responsible for acquiring skills and characteristics needed for a good fit with the school environment and the characteristics that will allow them to be academically and socially successful. More recently, there has been a call by organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) for schools to accept the responsibility for adapting to the needs of all children. This view posits that all children are “ready” for school; schools and teachers must accommodate children of varied learning and behavioral styles, maturational levels, languages, and cultures by adjusting instruction so that every child can succeed.
Developmental Screening Versus Readiness Tests
Two types of tests often associated with school readiness are developmental screening tests and readiness tests. Preschool children may be evaluated with either or both of these measures, which have very different uses. Developmental screening tests are designed to identify children who need further assessment and evaluation. After a developmental screening test shows reason for concern, the NAEYC suggests a child undergo a multidisciplinary assessment. Only after this assessment should placement decisions (e.g., into a “developmental” kindergarten or pre–first grade program) be made.
Readiness tests focus on a child’s level of preparation for school in comparison with other children of similar age. The primary use of such information is to give teachers an understanding of the achievement levels of their students and improve their ability to plan instruction. The function of readiness tests should not be to sort children or advocate delayed entry for some children and school entry for others.
Neither the developmental screening test nor the readiness test should be used to make placement decisions, such as whether or not a particular child should attend regular kindergarten, should attend a developmental kindergarten, or should have entry delayed. As stated earlier, such decisions require a multidisciplinary assessment.
Delayed School Entry
Concerns about children’s readiness and perceived potential negative impacts of being the youngest in a class, as well as the maturational view of readiness, continue to exert influence on many parents’ decisions to delay school entry. However, quality research shows that children who appear to be “immature” at school onset overwhelmingly catch up to their peers by second grade. Additionally, delaying entry has recently received more attention for the potential problems associated with it, including possible increases in children’s behavioral problems and difficulties for teachers with classes where large variations in age exist.
In summary, the most widely accepted notion of readiness among experts in early childhood education today is the view advocated by the NAEYC. Schools and teachers bear the responsibility of being ready to accommodate the needs of all children in developmentally appropriate classrooms. All children are ready to learn, although they may come to school with different experiences and capabilities. Parents should be encouraged to send their children to school on time, as per district guidelines. The goal of kindergarten testing and screening is for schools to obtain helpful information that will enable teachers to optimally serve their students, as well as allow schools to provide appropriate additional services to those children who require such services.
- Ames, A. (1967). Is your child in the wrong grade?New York: Harper & Row.
- Brent, , May, D. C., & Kundert, D. K. (1996). The incidence of delayed school entry: A twelve-year review. Early Intervention and Care, 7(2), 121–135.
- Byrd, S., Weitzman, M., & Auinger, P. (1997). Increased behavior problems associated with delayed school entry and delayed school progress. Pediatrics, 100(4), 1–8.
- National Association for the Education of Young (n.d.). Where we stand on school readiness. Retrieved from http://www.naeyc.org/about/positions/pdf/readiness.pdf
- Noel, A. , & Newman, J. (2003). Why delay kindergarten entry? A qualitative study of mothers’ decisions. Early Education & Development, 14(4), 479–497.
- Stipek, (2002). At what age should children enter kindergarten? A question for policy makers and parents. Social Policy Report, 16(2).