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Is your kid ready to start? Youngest in class more likely to have problems keeping up with the curriculum

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Dedyna, Katherine
Publication Date: 
28 Jun 2011



Kindergarten registration took place months ago, with the vast majority of Victoria parents opting to put kids born in December in with the kids born in January.

But a major new B.C. study provides hard data that the youngest children in a classroom score considerably lower in reading and mathematical skills over the long term and are less likely to graduate from Grade 12.

Children born in December are 12 to 15 per cent less likely to reach standard math and reading scores in Grades 4 and 7 than classmates born in January, and 12 per cent less likely to graduate on time, says the report, authored by Jerry Mussio, a former Education Ministry official, and Pat McCrea, a current ministry official.

If all kindergarten students did as well as those born in January, 1,700 more students would graduate on time from Grade 12 in a given year, which in turn would save taxpayers $14 million in the costs of adult educational upgrading or repeated secondary schooling estimated at $8,000 per student.

The study, called Birthdate and Student Achievement, followed nearly 47,000 B.C. children who turned five in 1995 and enrolled in a B.C. kindergarten through to their 2010 graduation from high school. It suggests "a substantial number of students will fall behind their peers, simply because they are the youngest and most immature in their kindergarten class."

The birthdate effect is most evident in aboriginal boys, then aboriginal girls, non-aboriginal boys and least discernible in non-aboriginal girls. The 698 children (mostly boys) who did delay kindergarten by a year in 1995, require study as to their outcomes, the authors say.

For parents, the study is "another piece of information" they can use to decide on their own child's readiness for school, says Pat Duncan, associate superintendent of Victoria School District 61.

It would be "a huge mistake" to suggest to parents that all boys born in December should be held back until the following year, he says.

Every student is unique, he underscores, and parents have to make their decisions about the best time for school entry based on their child, noting that low income is another variable in the readiness equation.

Some boys born in December are ready for September school entry; some girls born in January may not be, Duncan says.

In any case, children are seldom held back from grade completion these days, instead receiving extra help as part of personalized learning - something that could overcome the birthday effect, he says.

Last year in Victoria, 32 of 1,356 students started kindergarten at age six instead of five. That is just 2.1 per cent.

Kootenay Lake parents delayed nearly nine per cent of their five-year-olds; it was just 0.7 per cent in Richmond, B.C.

The report notes that a five-year-old born in December has lived a year less than a January baby, who might have more physical, social and cognitive maturity.

One approach to counteract the effect would be to organize the teaching of reading, writing and numeracy outside the grade system and in keeping with the development of each child, the report's executive summary notes. Other subjects such as science and social studies would still be organized according to the grade structure.

The province attempted a dual-entry system for kindergarten in 1989 to even out the age difference. Children born between May 1 and Oct. 31 started in September; the rest in January.

The idea fell apart over added daycare costs, parents' confusion over how an ungraded primary school curriculum that began with dual entry would work, and reticence about renegotiating labour contracts to deal with a shakeup of the educational culture.


  • By Grade 4, one-quarter of children studied did not meet reading standards for the Foundation Skills Assessment. But 79 per cent of kids born in January did, gradually declining to 66 per cent of kids born in December. In Grade 7, the decline was from 75 per cent to 63 per cent.
  • Just over one-quarter of students did not meet Grade 4 numeracy standards, declining from 78 per cent in January kids to 63 per cent for December kids. In Grade 7, the distribution ranged from 80 per cent to 68 per cent.
  • 99 per cent of those born in January progressed to Grade 7 on time versus 89 per cent for those born in December.
  • 82 per cent of children born in January graduated Grade 12 on time versus 70 per cent of those born in December, although some of the latter make it up in the next year or two.


-reprinted from the Victoria Times and Colonist


Entered Date: 
29 Jun 2011
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