Under Proposed New Legislation, Tennessee Students Would Wait Until Age 7 to Start First Grade

State Representative Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) outlined his intent to file legislation that would change the eligibility age for students entering first grade with to host Matt Murphy on 99.7 WTN last week before Christmas. Under Cepicky’s proposal, students would not be able to enter first grade until age 7, unless they could pass a local assessment showing that they could do grade-level work. The bill would allow younger students to take a “redshirt” year to adequately prepare for the increased academic demands of first grade.

Cepicky, who chairs the Education Instruction Subcommittee and is a member of Education Administration, Education Instruction Committees, and K-12 Subcommittee in the State House of Representatives – said the legislation is derived from a legislative brief on Kindergarten Readiness and Academic Performance, written by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA). This brief shows that Tennessee students who were older at kindergarten enrollment performed better on 3rd-grade literacy tests than their peers. Forty-two percent of students aged 6 to 6.49 (older students) were on or above grade level in 3rd-grade literacy, compared to 33 percent of younger students aged 4.5 to 4.99 years old. The trend of older students outperforming their younger peers was also reflected on 6th grade literacy tests.

In talking with teachers across the state, Cepicky has come to the conclusion that by starting students too early, schools are being forced to spend more time focusing on unprepared students at the expense of those who are ready for grade-level work. By making this simple change, the state could increase performance levels in literacy by 15-20 percent. Over the last decade, the state literacy average has run in the low to mid 3os.

“Redshirting” is a term most commonly associated with college athletics, and is used as a means to extend an athlete’s eligibility while giving them time to develop, adjust to college life, or recover from injury. In this case, it refers to the practice wherein a parent enrolls a child after the academic year they first become eligible for kindergarten.

Parents may voluntarily delay a student’s kindergarten enrollment for multiple reasons. Among them is a belief that the child is less mature academically, socially, or physically than their peers. Redshirting gives that child an opportunity to mature, and thus be better prepared for the increased academic demands of first grade.

Under current Tennessee state law, children entering kindergarten must be at least 5 years old on or before August 15. Students may enroll later, provided they do so no later than the academic year after their 6th birthday.

Tennessee is one of 20 states, including Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, and Texas, that do not require a kindergarten assessment prior to starting school.

According to the OREA’s legislative brief, roughly 5 percent of Tennessee kindergarten students start kindergarten between the ages of 6 and 7. The national redshirting rate has been estimated between 6 and 12 percent. Most of those redshirted students are white, male, and do not have an economically disadvantaged background.

Critics have raised questions about possible negative consequences for disadvantaged students. Citing parents’ inability to pay for pre-k in order to prepare their child to enter formal schooling.

Cepicky counters by arguing that this bill will have no impact on current pre-k or kindergarten eligibility rules. Government-funded pre-K is a national initiative and will continue to be made available to Tennessee families. There is nothing in the proposed legislation that would prevent students from participating in multiple years of kindergarten. Repeating kindergarten is viewed as beneficial to students’ future success.

The Tennessee Star reached out to several members of the House Education Committee for a response to the proposed legislation. All indicated that they wished to hold off offering an opinion until hearing from the author of the legislation first. Cepicky said that he will file the bill in the near future.

Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) Executive Director J.C. Bowman views the idea as worthy of consideration. Saying, “Many educators believe chronological age plays a part in a child’s school readiness. Naturally, children will enter kindergarten with various levels of skill and readiness, so I agree with Chairman Cepicky here.”

Though he does add a caveat, “More extensive research should precede any state or district policy changes regarding kindergarten enrollment requirements to limit the effects of selection bias, or consider factors like race, ethnicity, economically disadvantaged status, and gender. But we must look at this issue.”

While his legislation around first-grade eligibility has yet to be filled, Representative Cepicky has filed a bill (HB0007) that increases, from $200 to $500, the amount each LEA and public charter school is required to pay each teacher in kindergarten through grade 12 for the purchase of instructional supplies for the 2023-2024 school year.

The 113th Tennessee General Assembly will convene at noon (CST) on Tuesday, January 10, 2023.

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TC Weber is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. He also writes the blog Dad Gone Wild. Follow TC on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected] He’s the proud parent of two public school children and the spouse of a public school teacher.
Photo “Students” by Artem Podrez.


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13 Thoughts to “Under Proposed New Legislation, Tennessee Students Would Wait Until Age 7 to Start First Grade”

  1. JRin

    If they start 1st grade when they’re 7 yrs old, that means they’ll be 18 yrs old when they’re in the 6th grade. 🙂

  2. Molly

    Youse guys have nailed it
    As i recall there has been at least two non-union studies in the last 15-20 yrs that has shown any reading comprehension benefit from pre-K (free babysitting) is lost by the beginning of third grade
    Which would confirm that the huge waste of tax$$$ thrown at pre-K
    So yes a delay in any government programming would be advantages to the child

  3. JC Bowman

    It is nothing to do with money. What is the appropriate age to start a kid in school. Nobody knows. Each kid is different , and each kid is uniquely created in the image of God. I don’t always agree with Karen, and she knows that, she has been out in front from day one on Common Core. Common Core is largely funded to groups who supported by the “Godfather of Common Core,” as Lance Izumi calls him: Bill Gates and his foundation. We should look at school readiness and have that discussion We should also revisit the standards, and yes get rid of any of the last vestiges of Common Core. It is not an either/or it is an and/both. Also I would point all of you toward Education Trust and their Equity Alliance. You want a group that has the Lee Administrations ear: https://thealliancetn.org/our-partners/

  4. Karen Bracken

    What we should do is stop forcing pre-school kids to learn before they are ready to learn. Finland is academically way ahead of any other country when it comes to academic performance and their children do not start school until the age of 7. Rep. Cepicky should concentrate more on getting rid of Common Core and consult with FL about how they restructured education and truly ended Common Core. TN legislators are deceiving constituents when they say they repealed Common Core because all they did was move the deck chairs and change the name.

    1. math tutor

      Certainly that is what Ohio did. They simply changed the name to “Ohio’s New Learning Standards”, while keeping almost the entire edifice of illogical “instruction” intact. When a student enrolled in a calculus course (I should put that in quotation marks, too) don’t know basic arithmetic, even the most naive observer should be able to smell a rat.

  5. Kalee

    Excellent! It’s about time! Phyllis Schlafly wrote about this years ago, that children, especially little boys, are not ready to sit still and learn until they’re 8 or 9 years old. Parents are responsible to be the natural teachers and nurturers of their children until adulthood.

    1. Cannoneertwo

      Well, shoot, lets push that ol’ book larnin’ back another year then….

  6. Donna Eyman

    This would be wonderful if the unions were out of the education business. Once that occurs we can at least normalize education. Now CRT is pushed by the unions and it will only get worse.

    1. JC Bowman

      I am not a fan of the NEA or the AFT, and have been a leader to provide a non-union voice for educators that is non-partisan. But the unions are a convenient scapegoat. I do not see either union on this list that influences Tennessee education policy. https://thealliancetn.org/our-partners/

  7. This is nonsense legislation. They pushed this crap in 2000 with “developmental kindergarten.” It’s to keep your children in school where the Feds will give them more money the longer they’re in public schools. The State will continue to suck off the teet of the Feds.

  8. Randy

    The true reason children have difficulty learning is summed up in this quote, which is academic code for give us more money.
    “More extensive research should precede any state or district policy changes regarding kindergarten enrollment requirements to limit the effects of selection bias, or consider factors like race, ethnicity, economically disadvantaged status, and gender. But we must look at this issue.”
    Less regulation, less administration and less focus on increased funding leads to improved education.

    1. Joe Blow

      Randy – You summed it up very well. It is always about money, money, money.

      And of course they nay-sayers always rollout the tired and worn out “disadvantaged children” whine. The thing I want is to stop paying for babysitting for crap like “pre-K” that is code word for public funded babysitting.

      1. math tutor

        If only. Unfortunately, publicly funded training to crush every vestige of independent thought is more likely to be the case.