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Early entrance available for K-1st graders

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Dickinson, 58602
The Dickinson Press
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Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Parents who think their children are ready to enter Kindergarten or first grade early may do so under the state's early entrance evaluation system.

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Although a handful are evaluated in the area, few enter schools through that system, school officials say.

Under the system, schools can use evaluation tools to determine whether those children whose fifth or sixth birthday falls after Sept. 1 and before Jan. 1 may enter kindergarten or first grade this upcoming school year on the basis of readiness. The early evaluation system is available under the state's century code.

Terry Tucker, director of West River Student Services said parents have always had the right to look at getting their children into school prior to the cut off date.

"The state has always looked at those kids that have extra talents in areas such as reading or mathematics that they can look at requesting early entrance," Tucker said. "It could be in other areas, it's about social and emotional development as well."

That description includes children who are mature for their age and more than ready for school.

"The caution is that many kids are ready for school, but when school starts they are not ready for it," Tucker said.

A high level of talent is something required for children in the early evaluation system.

"Typically the criteria set by schools are that kids have to perform in the 90th percentile, so they have to be pretty talented," Tucker said.

Dorothy Martinson, director of student services for Dickinson Public Schools said no students have been admitted in her seven years at DPS under the early evaluation system.

"We have had other parents inquire but decide not to pursue the testing when they receive additional information about the expectations and requirements," Martinson said. "What educational research would reveal is that students that enter have to have very high cognitive ability otherwise what will hit them later is the social (aspect)."

After a questionnaire and cognitive screening, if the child passes the full cognitive test they would move on to a solo interview. Martinson said no child has made it to that particular step in her time at DPS.

"What parents often think is their child can do things that other kids that are going to kindergarten can do like counting and colors and have some of the fine motor skills but it goes far beyond that," Martinson said. "If it's early entrance you have to meet special criteria. It's not that you can do the things the other kids can do that are coming in, because obviously there is a huge span of what skills kids have when they enter Kindergarten."

Martison said in 2008 no students were evaluated by the district for early evaluation with one and three being evaluated in 2007 and 2006, respectively.

Other states have a similar system, but may have different criteria, Tucker said, adding that some states are very restrictive in the tests children must do and scores they must achieve.

"The ones we use in southwest (N.D.) may appear to have a tougher criteria but a lot of it really is sitting down and discussing school readiness with school administration, teacher and parent," Tucker said.

Due to kindergarten not being mandatory in the state, Tucker said the option is available for those children to enter first grade early as well.

Tucker said on average, he experiences about six inquires, four evaluations, and possibly around two entries in the 15 school districts he works with, which excludes Dickinson Public Schools.

Anyone interested in the early evaluation system should contact the principal of the elementary school in their district of residency for an application. A parent interview, screening of the child, assessment and parent conference of the assessment will follow.

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