Liv Ames for EdSource
Students in a transitional kindergarten class in Fresno Unified talk among themselves about the work of art they just discussed as a class.

Two years after three-quarters of the state’s largest school districts combined classes for transitional kindergarten and kindergarten, most districts are now creating separate classes for the younger children.

An EdSource survey of the 30 largest districts in California with elementary school students found that, whenever possible, most districts are creating separate classes for transitional kindergartners, those 4-year-olds whose fall birthdays miss the cutoff date for kindergarten. Half of the districts are offering only stand-alone classes for transitional kindergartners, and most of the remaining districts have more stand-alone than mixed classes. Only two of the 30 districts rely primarily on mixed classes.

In 2013-14, 78 percent of all classes for transitional kindergartners in California were mixed classes, according to data from the California Department of Education.

“We try to avoid combination classes,” said Craig Wells, assistant superintendent of human resources at Stockton Unified, which had only one mixed class this school year. “That’s not the intent of transitional kindergarten.”

First implemented in 2012-13, transitional kindergarten is supposed to give students who were previously eligible for kindergarten an extra year to adjust to school and experience a less academically oriented curriculum. The program was phased in over three years after legislators pushed back the cutoff birthdate for kindergarten from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1, meaning children must turn 5 by Sept. 1 to enroll in kindergarten.

The initial implementation of the program with large numbers of combination classes caused confusion for some teachers and parents. Kindergarten teachers had essentially the same set of students, but now they were supposed to provide a different curriculum for the students who were 4 years old. Meanwhile, some parents were concerned that their children were repeating kindergarten when they were in combination classes two years in a row.

“We try to avoid combination classes,” said Craig Wells, assistant superintendent of human resources at Stockton Unified. “That’s not the intent of transitional kindergarten.”

The districts that offer only stand-alone classes typically do not have a class at every school, but instead offer transitional kindergarten in one school in each neighborhood.

“Transitional kindergarten is an official grade level in San Francisco Unified,” said Heidi Anderson, public relations manager for the district. “We have 22 classes located at several schools throughout the city. There are no combination classes.”

Elk Grove Unified and Fremont Unified spokespersons  emphasized the need for separate classes to support the transitional kindergarten curriculum.

“We don’t do combination classes to ensure that transitional kindergartners receive age-appropriate instruction,” said Xanthi Pinkerton, director of communications for Elk Grove.

At Fremont, all transitional kindergarten classes use the same curriculum and all teachers meet once a month to collaborate, said Brian Killgore, public information officer for the district. “Assessments for all classes are the same, and the focus centers on social-emotional development.”

The state’s largest district – Los Angeles Unified – has chosen to provide transitional kindergarten at every school, but because of its size, the district is able to offer 75 percent of the classes as stand-alone classes.

Of the 30 districts surveyed, only two districts – Clovis Unified and Santa Ana Unified – rely primarily on mixed classes.

Like L.A. Unified, Clovis offers transitional kindergarten at every school. But the students eligible for transitional kindergarten “are spread thinly across the entire district’s attendance area,” so the classes are mixed, said Kelly Avants, chief communications officer. “We do not think it is ideal to transport young students from different areas to combine classes among schools.”

At Santa Ana, the transitional kindergarten students are clustered together in groups of 15 in classes with kindergartners, said Deidra Powell, chief communications officer for the district.

But the district does not consider the classes combination classes, she said, because the teacher does not teach a separate curriculum for each group of students. Instead, teachers rely on a digital curriculum that adapts to each student’s academic level, Powell said.

The 30 largest districts – each enrolls more than 30,000 students – have more flexibility to offer stand-alone classes because they are more likely to have enough transitional kindergartners to fill up a class. The American Institutes for Research is compiling statewide data – expected to be released at the end of April – on what percentage of transitional kindergarten classes in California are stand-alone classes.

Staff writer Erin Brownfield contributed to this report.

* Primarily mixed (48 classes), but six classes are stand-alone.
** Only one mixed class; rest are stand-alone classes.
Note: Enrollment data are based on 2014-15 California Department of Education data. The districts included are the 30 largest with elementary school students.

 

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  1. SD Parent 3 years ago3 years ago

    Thank you for bringing this issue out into the open. It would be great it you would dig deeper into the statistics and determine what districts are really doing for these students. TK students (who are born in Sept, Oct, or Nov) represent one quarter (3 of 12 months) of all entering school-age children. Simple algebra says that to have a stand-alone class, a given school would need at least four entry-level classes: one TK … Read More

    Thank you for bringing this issue out into the open. It would be great it you would dig deeper into the statistics and determine what districts are really doing for these students. TK students (who are born in Sept, Oct, or Nov) represent one quarter (3 of 12 months) of all entering school-age children. Simple algebra says that to have a stand-alone class, a given school would need at least four entry-level classes: one TK and three K. With a minimum of three to four classes per grade level (and an average elementary school class size of what, 30?), an elementary school would need an enrollment of about 540 students to have a sufficient local student population for a stand-alone TK class. I suspect that this factor alone is the driving issue behind why TK isn’t a stand-alone class in most schools. Could this also explain why larger districts tend to have more stand-alone TK classes? Do these districts have more large elementary schools? Or are they offering TK classes that draw from more than one school’s boundaries? Digging deeper, are the TK classes offered as an all day or half day program? Does the district offer before/after care (particularly if it’s a half-day program)?

    Replies

    • Susan Frey 3 years ago3 years ago

      As I mentioned in the article, districts typically do not offer transitional kindergarten at every school, but have a class at a centrally located school in each neighborhood. Some of the districts who responded to our survey said they offered part-day programs; others offered full-day. We did not ask about before- and after-school programs, but I know some working parents who qualify for full-day, state-funded preschool or who have their children in private preschool programs … Read More

      As I mentioned in the article, districts typically do not offer transitional kindergarten at every school, but have a class at a centrally located school in each neighborhood. Some of the districts who responded to our survey said they offered part-day programs; others offered full-day. We did not ask about before- and after-school programs, but I know some working parents who qualify for full-day, state-funded preschool or who have their children in private preschool programs choose to leave their 4-year-olds in preschool for another year if the district offers only a part-day program or no before- or after-school activities. We requested statewide data from the California Department of Education on how many classes were stand-alone versus mixed, but they did not have the data readily available and would not provide them. Look for a report from the American Institutes for Research at the end of the month for statewide data and more information on this issue.