Education leaders in Connecticut are taking steps to help ease the transition of children into kindergarten.
Addressing critical junctures in a child’s education such as going from preschool to K-12 and from elementary school to middle school are required under the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.
To comply with that, Connecticut recently began providing materials designed to help administrators at elementary schools learn more about the early-childhood education offerings in their communities as well as effective, practical techniques to ensure children have a smooth transition into kindergarten.
“We’re looking through a lens of an elementary principal and his or her staff, and often they wait until they receive the student to find out things about them, but we could actually be much more proactive and start to join with early-childhood providers,” said Ellen Cohn, the state’s deputy education commissioner.
In Connecticut, as in many other states, K-12 education and early-childhood education have historically functioned separately. The early-learning landscape in the state features a complex mix of public and private institutions with several different funding streams.
Without a background in early-childhood education, Cohn asserts, elementary-school principals may not know much about the knowledge base of their youngest students.
“If the principal and the staff know where students are coming from, can access any kind of data for students before they arrive, we stand a better chance of being prepared for them and not surprised, or reinventing the wheel as we so often like to do, and nonstop assessment to try to find it out, when, in fact, that knowledge about the child might be knowable,” said Cohn.
Data Collection Tutorial
As part of this effort to prepare elementary school, the state is providing a “landscape analysis tool” that will help principals and other administrators answer key questions about their communities such as who are the area’s main early-childhood education providers and “what data is available and important to collect and analyze” before students enter kindergarten.
The tool classifies data across four categories: demographics, quality of education and care prior to kindergarten, student learning and achievement, and family and community engagement.
Within these categories, the data is listed as either “must have,” “good to have,” or “nice to have.” Must-haves include things like family income and home language, while good-to-haves include information about chronic absenteeism and access to transportation. The nice-to-have category includes things like developmental screenings and duration of early-childhood education.
The documents include links to let principals know where they should go to find this information and then provide suggestions on how to use the information.
“This tool is really a way for school leaders to get a pulse on their community and then better plan for [the] needs of their students and families,” said Lisa Lamenzo, an education consultant in the state education department’s turnaround office.
The state brought together more than 30 stakeholders from schools across the state as well as outside consultants and community leaders to help develop these resources.
School leaders were also encouraged to collaborate with their communities to complete this work, which in many ways was designed to build a bridge between early-childhood education and K-12.
Andrea Brinnel is an early-childhood education expert who works in the state’s Bureau of Special Education as a consultant. She stresses that these resources are not a step-by-step guide to making this transition easier but rather a “self-assessment and introspective look at what their practices are.”
Brinnel expects schools to continue to add to this as they learn more about what works.
“A good solid transition is really about having a system and not just a couple of activities,” said Brinnel.
The state is not expecting to see big changes right away. Cohn estimates that planning for a proper transition should begin, at a minimum, the fall before a student enters kindergarten.
Help for Struggling Districts
The state is providing differing levels of support to implement transition systems with the 10 lowest-performing districts getting the most intensive help. Those districts account for 70 percent of the state’s Title I schools.
Leaders with these districts have been asked to select three goals they’d like to accomplish. Staff is specifically assigned to these districts to help them, and resources are allocated to help the districts meet these goals. They also receive training and status checks along the way to make sure they’re on track.
As part of its effort to make sure children have an easy time going into kindergarten, the state is also providing elementary schools an evidence-based guide for early learning that includes age 3 to 3rd grade.
“Teachers, on top of the amazing days they have with children, should not have to go home and do individual research to find out what the best practices are,” said Cohn. “That’s what we wanted to provide as a service to our school districts.”
Image by Getty
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.