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.
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.
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.