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Study Finds Little Done To Ease Transition to School

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WASHINGTON--Most public schools do not do much in a systematic way to help preschoolers make the transition to kindergarten, a federal study concludes.

The study, which also documents the prevalence of retention and transitional classes for children deemed unready for formal learning, was launched as part of an effort to explore ways to help children maintain the gains they make in preschool programs. Previous studies have suggested that those gains often fade as children progress through school.

The report, prepared for the U.S. Education Department under contract to the òíã Research Corporation, is based on a national sample of 830 school districts and 1,169 schools in the 1989-90 school year.

Most of the schools surveyed reported welcoming children and their parents with orientations and visitations, and nearly half reported having a formal program for school visits by parents.

But few appeared to have implemented ongoing practices to foster continuity between children's preschool and kindergarten experiences.

For example, only 10 percent reported "systematic communication'' between kindergarten teachers and previous caregivers or teachers to share such information about the children entering kindergarten as health records or analyses of developmental progress.

Only 12 percent of the schools reported having kindergarten curricula "designed to build on the preschool program,'' and only 13 percent indicated that they had a formal policy on transition activities.

Transfers of records, coordination of instructional programs, and communication between preschool and kindergarten teachers appeared to be more prevalent in schools that had prekindergarten programs within the school building.

But site visits to a small number of schools "demonstrated that the presence of a preschool program is no guarantee of greater transition efforts,'' the report said.

The study found greater coordination and communication between preschool and kindergarten--and more transition activities that involve parents--in schools with high percentages of low-income families.

That coordination may be encouraged or aided, the report says, by programs serving disadvantaged families, such as Chapter 1, Head Start, and state preschool programs.

But it also suggests that such schools may need to go further to meet the needs of their population.

About 33 percent of the principals in high-poverty schools reported that many children who enter kindergarten have difficulty adjusting, compared with 6 percent of the principals in low-poverty schools.

The study also found more preschool-school coordination in schools with strong administrative support and a more positive climate over all.

More Academic Focus

Beyond transition practices, noted John Love, the director of the Center for Early-Childhood Research and Policy at òíã and the study's principal author, "we found out an awful lot about what is going on in kindergarten programs in our country.''

The study showed, for example, that children are routinely assessed with standardized tests, screening, or readiness instruments in 82 percent of the schools, and that 72 percent retain children or place them in a transitional class if they are deemed unready to move from kindergarten to the 1st grade.

Of those schools that hold children back, officials reported retaining about 5 percent of their kindergarten children and assigning 13 percent to transition classes.

Mr. Love also noted that, while most principals rated their kindergartens as "developmental,'' the activities they reported "were more consistent with an academic approach'' than with the more hands-on, child-initiated approaches promoted by early-childhood experts.

With several national efforts focusing on ways to build on preschool gains, Mr. Love noted, the study provides "useful baseline data to allow us to see what kind of progress we make.''

Copies of the report, "Transitions to Kindergarten in American Schools,'' are available free of charge from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Policy and Planning, Planning and Evaluation Service, 400 Maryland Ave., S.W., Room 3127, Washington, D.C. 20202.

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