Transitional kindergarten programs and kindergarten readiness assessments are critical to linking the early learning and K-12 systems.
Children who enter kindergarten well-prepared for school are more likely to have lasting academic success. In fact, children’s academic and non-academic school readiness skills prior to starting kindergarten are the strongest predictors of 3rd grade scores in reading and math. Children who enter school well prepared are 10 times more likely to meet state standards on 3rd grade standardized tests than are students who enter school under prepared.
Based upon kindergarten readiness assessments, one California county found that children who had mastered social and emotional skills prior to entering kindergarten were more likely to demonstrate comprehensive school readiness, including cognition and general knowledge, beneficial approaches to learning and communication skills. School readiness, as measured by such markers as self-control, interpersonal skills, disposition toward learning and behavior management improves student achievement.
Without access to high-quality preschool or transitional kindergarten (the first year of a two-year kindergarten program that uses a modified kindergarten curriculum that is age and developmentally appropriate), young children—particularly those who are low-income, students of color or English learners—are likely to enter kindergarten under prepared and are often at risk of falling behind in school. In fact, only 33% of economically disadvantaged 3rd graders read at grade-level.
California should establish stronger links among preschool, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten in order to better support children’s early learning and successful entry into school. These efforts should include aligning curriculum, using developmentally-appropriate assessments, leveraging data to improve instruction and ensuring joint professional development. Specifically, California should build a statewide kindergarten readiness observation and assessment system that (a) helps parents better support their children’s development, (b) informs the instructional practices of preschool, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten teachers and (c) provides administrators and policymakers with regional and statewide snapshots of overall kindergarten readiness.
In fall 2012 districts launched the state’s newly established transitional kindergarten (TK) program, which moves the kindergarten entry age back to September 1st and provides an additional year of support to young children who were born between September 2nd and December 2nd, and therefore no longer eligible for kindergarten. TK was offered in 89% of districts, serving about 39,000 4 year-olds and will eventually benefit an estimated 1 out of 4 kindergarten students, or 120,000 children each year.
In 2014, California’s newly developed Desired Results Developmental Profile – School Readiness (DRDP-SR©) assessment will be fully available to all school districts for voluntary use, free of charge. The DRDP-SR© provides kindergarten teachers with a valid, reliable measurement tool to identify learning needs and monitor school readiness, after years of using inconsistent kindergarten readiness instruments. In September 2013, the State Superintendent urged all school districts to utilize the new tool. This is an important step towards the statewide use of an accurate kindergarten readiness measurement tool, one that provides teachers and state and local leaders with the data needed to better inform decision-making.