This is part of a series of blog posts by the KDP Public Policy Committee that examine the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), a law that outlines the federal government’s role in education. The purpose of the series is to educate KDP members about this important law and its impact on their work as educators.
The ESSA Act requires documentation of “the strategies that the school will be implementing to address school needs, including a description of how such strategies will . . . address the needs of all children in the school, but particularly the needs of those at risk of not meeting the challenging State academic standards, through activities which may include . . . strategies for assisting preschool children in the transition from early childhood education programs to local elementary school programs” (pp. 68–69).
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” –Benjamin Franklin
The Every Student Succeeds Act reaffirms the country’s commitment to young learners. Although some research indicates that the kindergarten readiness achievement gap is lessening between children from low- and high-income families, the importance of preparing preschoolers for kindergarten remains a top priority for teachers and parents across the nation. ESSA acknowledges the need for high-quality preschool programs, outlines funding allotments and guidelines, and highlights the benefit of a smooth transition for preschoolers into kindergarten. Read more about the Early Learning Initiatives here.
According to ESSA Section 1114, if Title I funds are used to support preschool programs, then the school district plans must include a description of how the funding is used, specifically addressing how the district supports the transition from preschool to kindergarten. Also, the preschool program and/or services must comply with the performance standards laid out in the Head Start Act.
Vertical Alignment and Collaboration
Vertical alignment is an idea that most educators are familiar with: First-grade teachers share expectations with kindergarten teachers, second-grade teachers discuss what students should know by August with first-grade teachers, and so on. ESSA requires communication and collaboration between preschool programs and the school district. The focus on improving kindergarten readiness and supporting the preschool to kindergarten transition is a key point of the legislation. The idea is multi-faceted and holds many potential benefits, including:
- Identifying and minimizing gaps in student learning by increasing communication between preschool and kindergarten teachers.
- Increasing parent involvement and advocacy for their child by helping them to understand the transition.
- Supporting students’ academic, emotional, and social needs as they transition.
The transition into kindergarten can be a tough one for children, parents, and sometimes teachers. Students enter kindergarten with so many varied experiences—some have been in daycare and preschool their whole life, and some have never been separated from a parent or family member. Many enter with knowledge of the alphabet and numbers, but there are also children who have never had any instruction or exposure to academic subjects. Regardless of background experiences, even simply learning to line up and sit down when asked can be a struggle.
Here are some ways to support the transition for students into kindergarten:
- Connect preschool families with free book programs (like Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Program or visit Reading Rockets for more options) to engage kids with books.
- Set up transition meetings with the preschool and kindergarten teachers, and support staff like counselors and nurses, to answer questions and establish expectations for families.
- Establish a way for student preschool records to precede the student, giving the kindergarten teacher a running start at knowing academic (and sometimes social) needs before the school year begins.
- Provide training for preschool teachers, kindergarten teachers, and support personnel on social and emotional needs specific to this transition.
- Arrange kindergarten “play dates” over the summer for incoming kindergarteners and families to meet teachers, administration, support staff, and other kindergarteners.
- Partner with local businesses and foundations to put together summer learning kits with crayons, paper, books, and other school supplies for the incoming kindergarteners to use over the summer.
- Write and distribute a Tips for Families packet with helpful hints for parents and family members as they support their child through this transition.
Call to Action
Join this week’s ESSA discussion on KDP Global about these questions:
- What do you or your district staff do to support the preschool to kindergarten transition?
- In your experience, what are other potential benefits of supporting this transition?
Bassok, D., Finch, J. E., Lee, R., Reardon, S. F., & Waldfogel, J. (2016). Socioeconomic gaps in early childhood experiences: 1998 to 2010. AERA Open, 2(3), 1–22.
Reardon, S. F., & Portilla, X. A. (2016). Recent trends in income, racial, and ethnic school readiness gaps at kindergarten entry. AERA Open, 2(3), 1–18.
Ridzi, F., Sylvia, M., Qiao, X., & Craig, J. (2017). The Imagination Library Program and kindergarten readiness: Evaluating the impact of monthly book distribution. Journal of Applied Social Science, 11(1), 11–24.
Dr. Caroline Courter, NBCT, is a Curriculum Specialist at Age of Learning, Inc. and an adjunct faculty member in the Watson College of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi Policy Committee.