Early Childhood

States Still Uneven on the Crucial Pre-K to Kindergarten Transition, Report Finds

By Marva Hinton — September 13, 2018 3 min read
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How can states ensure children make a smooth transition from preschool to kindergarten?

That’s one of the key questions researchers tackle in a new report released this month by the Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan group that tracks policies related to education.

“There’s a disconnect typically across this country between the birth-to-5 and the K-12 space,” said Bruce Atchinson, the report’s lead author and the ECS principal of early learning.

The report cites research showing that without systems in place to ensure a smooth transition from preschool to kindergarten, children can suffer socially and academically. Despite this, the report notes that only six states address this transition in statute, or through state law, and only 14, including the District of Columbia, do so by code, which is a rule that’s typically mandated by a state board of education.

Atchinson attributes this to changes in the field. He says 15 to 20 years ago, the early-learning field was concerned with birth to age 5. Once children entered kindergarten, they were not considered to be in early-childhood education any longer. But, he says, now that early-childhood education extends from birth to age 8, things are starting to change. States are asking that elementary school principals have training in child development, and schools are putting stronger teachers in kindergarten because that’s such a key year.

“It’s been a systemic change that is still a work in progress where the pre-K early-childhood birth-to-5 people have recognized the importance of connecting with what happens next and the K-3 space is recognizing that learning doesn’t start in kindergarten,” said Atchinson.

Effective Transition Examples

Three states, California, Massachusetts, and West Virginia, are profiled in the report for their efforts to help ease children into kindergarten.

In 2010, a law passed in California created the nation’s only transitional kindergarten program. This two-year program is only offered for students who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 and provides a modified kindergarten curriculum, which became a part of the state’s K-12 system. California code also requires transition support for children moving from preschool to kindergarten, which includes districts connecting with public preschools and providing opportunities for teachers and administrators at both levels to plan and conduct training together.

The plans in Massachusetts and West Virginia also focus a lot on engaging teachers at both levels through sharing information about children and meeting to discuss how to help with the transition.

“They have a lot of things outside of the classroom that they’re doing so that kids feel comfortable, parents feel comfortable, and the teachers have a stronger idea of what the other is doing,” said Sarah Pompelia, an ECS policy researcher and the report’s co-author.

These plans also call for engagement with parents, so they know what to expect at the next level and feel comfortable with the transition. Some local districts even require home visits.

The report also addresses alignment between preschool and the early-elementary years, or the “continuous interrelated nature of education programs and practices in early learning settings and the early grades.”

It notes that alignment across standards, curricula, instruction, and assessments can also lower the chance that learning gains made in preschool will fade out during the elementary school years.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.