Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Education and Human Services

Degree Name

Master of Education in Elementary Education (MEd)



First Advisor

Dr. David A. Jacobsen

Second Advisor

Dr. James I. Mittelstadt

Third Advisor

Dr. Janice O. Wood


Twenty years ago, kindergarten was a year of informal education designed to help a child develop some readiness skills, adjust to school, adjust socially and learn through play. Readiness for elementary education was defined in terms of attitude and motivation rather than in specific academic achievements.

The hazards of the academic model for young children is supported by recent research. Elkind (1986), for example, confirms that young children do not learn in the same ways as older children and adults. Because the world of things, people, and language is so new to infants and young children, they learn best through direct encounters with their world rather than through formal education.

During the '80s there has been an increase in the number of high-risk children entering kindergarten who may not be ready for that experience. Perhaps in response to this trend, kindergarten, rather than serving as a readiness program for future schooling, has become an experience for which children need to be prepared entering kindergarten. The National Association of Early Childhood (1987) notes that expectations have become increasingly high and unrealistic, as the curriculum from upper grades has been pushed down to lower levels, thus doom large numbers of young children to the increased possibility of failure.

As a result of this change, there has been quite a controversy over the policy of kindergarten retention. Although grade retention is widely practiced at all levels, research suggests that it does not help children to "catch up." While retained children may appear to do better in the short term, they are at much greater risk for failure than are their non-retained peers (Shepard and Smith, 1990).

The provision of an extra year of schooling prior to first grade is intended to protect unprepared children from entering too soon into a demanding academic environment where, 'it is thought, they will almost surely experience failure. Yet Shepard and Smith (1988) note that, "depending on the philosophical basis of kindergarten retention, which differs profoundly from one district to the next, the extra year is meant either to be a time for immature children to grow and develop learning readiness or a time to work on deficient prereading skills" (p. 34).

So the criteria by which retention decisions are made are critical. The question of which criteria determine a child's kindergarten retention becomes paramount. The study examines this question by addressing the following issues: 1. Current practices regarding kindergarten retention;2. The percentage of kindergartners retained each year (locally and statewide); 3. The effects of kindergarten retention; 4. The ways in which teacher pressure, parents, standardized tests, and basal reading programs contribute to kindergarten retention; and 5. Alternatives to kindergarten retention.

There will always be a group of children who lag behind their kindergarten classmates. Before we create a new program, however, we need to examine the effects of kindergarten retention. It is the intent of this study to provide county school supervisors and others with information which would enable them to take action to reverse the negative effects of past practices. This information can assist those responsible for decision-making as they struggle to make the correct decisions regarding the placement of young children.

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