boy listens

A boy listens to his teacher during circle time in his transitional kindergarten class in Long Beach earlier this year. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource Today

An estimated 39,000 students enrolled in transitional kindergarten this school year, the first year districts were required to offer the program, according to a new report.

The report, released Tuesday by the American Institutes for Research, is the first in a series planned by the Institute on how the new grade level for children whose fifth birthdays fall between Sept. 1 and Dec. 1 is being implemented in the 868 unified and elementary districts that must offer it. The report found that 89 percent of those districts offered the program this year; 7 percent of districts didn’t offer the program, citing no eligible students in their districts.* Most districts that didn’t offer the program were rural and had a very small student population, the report said.

Transitional kindergarten was created by the 2010 Kindergarten Readiness Act. The law requires districts that offer kindergarten to offer a transitional program to children who turn 5 after Sept. 1, the state’s new kindergarten registration cutoff date, but before Dec. 1, the previous registration cutoff. Transitional kindergarten is being rolled out over three years on a staggered schedule based on when children turn 5. For 2012-2013, districts were only mandated to offer the program to children turning 5 in November.

(Click to enlarge.) Source: "Transitional Kindergarten in California: Initial Findings from the First Year of Implementation," American Institutes of Research, June 2013

(Click to enlarge.) Source: “Transitional Kindergarten in California: Initial Findings from the First Year of Implementation,” American Institutes of Research, June 2013

The California Department of Education did not collect detailed enrollment data specifically on transitional kindergarten, instead including those numbers in kindergarten enrollment figures. So researchers based their enrollment estimates on surveys completed by district officials, said Heather Quick, the director of the study. Researchers estimated that about 70 percent of students eligible for transitional kindergarten and likely to enroll in public school had enrolled in a transitional kindergarten class this school year. 

Districts may offer transitional kindergarten as a stand-alone class, or in combination with a regular kindergarten class. The majority of districts offered a combination class, reporting too few eligible students to justify a separate classroom. Still, 43 percent of districts reported having at least one stand-alone transitional kindergarten classroom, a percentage Quick said was significant because early education advocates see a stand-alone classroom as preferable for maximum effectiveness.

graphic explalining transitional kindergarten

Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource Today

Nineteen percent of districts chose to open transitional kindergarten classrooms to the full range of eligible children (those with fifth birthdays fall between Sept. 1 and Dec. 1) this year, rather than waiting until fall 2014 when that will be required by law. (See graphic.) This decision was likely a strategy to have enough students to create a stand-alone classroom, according to the report.

Of the 30 percent of eligible students who did not enroll in transitional kindergarten, it is likely that many of them attended regular kindergarten, Quick said.

The report is the first of several that will be coming from the American Institutes for Research implementation study. Classroom observations, conversations with parents and additional school- and district-level data will provide a more detailed picture of California’s first year of transitional kindergarten in upcoming reports, Quick said.

*This story has been corrected from an earlier version that incorrectly reported the percentage of districts that did not offer transitional kindergarten because they did not have qualifying students. Seven percent of districts statewide did not offer the programs because they do not have enough students.

Lillian Mongeau covers early childhood education. Contact her and follow her @lrmongeau.

Note: The AIR study was underwritten by the Heising-Simons and David & Lucile Packard Foundations. EdSource also receives support from the Heising-Simons Foundation, which has no control over EdSource Today’s editorial content.

Filed under: Early Learning, Featured, Reporting & Analysis, Transitional Kindergarten

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  1. Marty says:

    HI Lillian,
    My child’s birthdate is 12/3/09 so I am one of the unfortunate parents who missed the TK cut off by one day in my District (Conejo Valley). Is there anything I can do to get my child into TK at our outstanding public school or do I need to pay for it at a private school for a year, then get her into Kindergarten?

    Thank You

    1. Lillian Mongeau says:

      Hi Marty,

      You can always ask for an exception to the law, but the truth is you’re likely out of luck. You might be interested to know that the Senate is proposing expanding transitional kindergarten to all 4-year-olds. It would be too late for your December child to make use of, but it might help a younger person in your family? Here’s a link to my story about the Senate proposal:


  2. john mockler says:

    Lillian What was the total enrollment of each of the Districts that did not offer for “other reasons”? The number of districts is not a good measure of compliance. 500 small districts equals one LAUSD. best John

    1. Lillian Mongeau says:

      Hi John,

      I hear what you’re saying. Here’s how your question is answered in the AIR report: “Indeed, the 89 percent of districts offering TK serve 96 percent of the state’s kindergarten population, so only a very small percentage of students eligible for TK are located in districts that were not yet implementing the program.”

      Still, neither of those numbers is 100 percent and I know you trust us for accuracy :) Got to uphold the reputation!


      1. el says:

        It sounds like the “other reasons” were basically that the district had only one or two students and that either they ended up classifying them as kindergarteners, or in one case, that the parent elected to pull out and choose preschool. There were I believe also many who did call their one November birthday kid TK and had TK/K combined, so I think this is a matter of nomenclature rather than real significant difference. Small districts that combined these kids probably handled it similarly regardless of what they called it.

        Most schools in my area (north coast) are running only one or two kindergartens per school site, and we also have many very small unified districts that may have only a single elementary (plus jr high and high school).

  3. Lillian Mongeau says:

    Just to be clear: Not every single district that was required to offer TK this year did. Eightly-nine percent offered it, 7 percent did not, but claimed no eligible students and 4 percent did not offer it for “other reasons.” The comment box won’t let me insert a graphic here, but you can find one on page 2 of the AIR report, linked above. The report also briefly describes the “other reasons” given by districts choosing not to offer the program.

    I have heard of the practice of sending TK kids to a different school to fill a class. I’m hopeful that more detail about that type of plan is in upcoming reports. In the meantime though, that district would still be counted as offering TK, so it wasn’t addressed in AIR’s initial brief.

  4. john mockler says:

    Good story bad headline. In fact essentially all districts with eligible students offered transitional Kindergarten. That of course is the law. John

    1. el says:

      Agree – they all offered it.

      In addition, there are very few schools that run 12 kindergarten classrooms, which is why it was hard to fill a classroom with only 1/12 of a class (November birthdays).

      Probably some districts sent transitional kids to a different school to fill classes as well, but this is not mentioned in the article.