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North Texas School Districts Prepare For Greater Age Differences, Skills Levels Among Incoming Kindergarteners

ROYSE CITY, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - Nine-year-old Caleb Porterfield is one of the older students starting the third grade this week in Royse City ISD.

"He just has more maturity," said his mother, Ashley Porterfield, "especially when he's in class with other people who are sometimes a year younger than he is."

Back when he was first old enough for kindergarten, his parents decided to wait a year, a practice known as red-shirting.

His father remembered always being the oldest in his class and wanted to give his sons the same advantage.

"He felt like that afforded him a lot of opportunities just as far as leadership," said Ashley.

With younger brother, Aden, though, the family didn't have the same option.

"He started kindergarten at age 5. And he was a young 5," said Ashley. "To be honest, it was hard."

Caleb and Aden Porterfield
Caleb and Aden Porterfield (credit: Ashley Porterfield)

This year, he's repeating the grade.

"He's just not ready to go to first grade," said Ashley.

The pandemic last year caused a massive disruption in learning that school districts believe prompted many more parents to delay their children's start of school.

"Sort of weathering out the storm to have a more normal, in person, ideally, education experience for their kids," said Dr. Beth Tarasawa with NWEA, the Northwest Evaluation Association.

Dr. Tarasawa been researching the pandemic's impact on education and found lower enrollment across every grade level.

"But we are seeing kind of above and beyond those trends in kindergarten, much higher levels of kids that are missing," she said.

The result, experts predict, will be a kindergarten bubble.

Contributing to it is a new Texas law that allows parents control over whether their children repeat grades, even when the school disagrees.

"I think most everyone is gearing up for an increased number of kindergartners," said Barry Haenisch with the Texas Association of Community Schools.

He says campuses are having to adjust.

"It's going to require additional classrooms," he said, "and then the teachers, someone's going to have to teach those classes."

Kindergarten teachers may see a wider range of ages and a bigger disparity in how prepared students are.

"We also this last year that many people didn't send their kids to preschool too," said Dr. Tarasawa.

Parents who've held children back, she says, may need to find ways to keep them challenged.

"Kids often come on day one more prepared," she said. "But that tends to fade out over time."

In the long run, she says, research has shown redshirting doesn't make a big difference.

"I don't envy kindergarten teachers. God bless 'em," said Ashley Porterfield.

She says she's seen the advantage having a slightly older student offers.

She only wishes the option wasn't reserved for those who can afford it.

"Unfortunately, it is a financial decision. I don't think it should be. But I don't think a lot of people have that choice for it not to be because they just can't afford to continue to pay for daycare."

She said she is happy Aiden is getting another shot at kindergarten, confident this time he's ready.

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