Transitional kindergarten boosts school readiness in math, reading

06.28.2017 | EdSource | Ashley Hopkinson

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California students who attended transitional kindergarten were more engaged in the learning process and better prepared for math and reading when they entered kindergarten than children who did not, according to a new study by the American Institutes for Research.

The study, released Wednesday, compared the skill levels of kindergartners who had attended transitional kindergarten with those who had attended preschool or had not been in formal preschool the year prior.

“Transitional kindergarten gives students an advantage of three to six months of learning in literacy and mathematics skills at kindergarten entry, which is quite notable, especially given that a large majority of the students attended preschool,” said Heather Quick, principal researcher of the study.

California’s transitional kindergarten program was phased in starting in 2012 for 4-year-olds who turn 5 from Sept. 2 through Dec. 2. Transitional kindergarten students attend kindergarten the following year. American Institutes for Research has been studying the impact of transitional kindergarten since the program’s first year of implementation and issued this final report as part of its multi-year effort.

The study, titled, “The Impact of Transitional Kindergarten on California Students” states that the program benefits all students, but shows particular advantages for low-income students and English learners. Transitional kindergarten classes compared across 20 districts and 168 elementary schools provided students a learning advantage regardless of class structure or different approaches to teaching, the study states.

“These impacts did not vary by classroom characteristics, suggesting that the unique features of transitional kindergarten that set it apart from other pre-kindergarten programs — credentialed teachers, alignment with kindergarten and inclusion of students from all income levels — may be driving the program’s positive results,” Quick said.

The findings in the study are based on comparisons between two groups of kindergarten students who all had their 5th birthday from October through February. Students who turned 5 on or before Dec 2. and were enrolled in transitional kindergarten were compared to those who turned 5 from Dec. 3 to February and were not in transitional kindergarten. Most of those not in transitional kindergarten were enrolled in preschool programs. The study assessed how well transitional kindergarten prepared a student for kindergarten based on research of more than 6,000 students across 20 school districts.

Key findings include:

  • Transitional kindergarten helps to improve the language development of English Learners and math skills for low-income students, which includes problem solving and symbol recognition.
  • Standalone transitional kindergarten classrooms, when compared to combination classes — with both transitional kindergarten and kindergarten students — showed similar benefits for students and did not show a significant difference in their impact. This includes half-day and full day classes.
  • Transitional kindergarten students recognized more letters and words and had a better understanding of phonetic sounds and vocabulary when entering kindergarten.
  • Transitional kindergarten does not significantly affect students’ “executive function,” which includes their memory function, how well they can focus on tasks and self-control, such as knowing when to raise their hands to ask a question.