Alison Yin for EdSource

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.

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  1. Kerry 12 months ago12 months ago

    Studies of academic- vs play-based programs for children under five have repeatedly shown that academic advantages are fleeting and disappear after a few years, whereas the social and emotional advantages of developmentally appropriate preschool are lasting. In addition, children in play-based programs show better development of executive functioning, attention, and emotional regulation – all of which are more crucial to school and life success than a few months of being ahead in letter … Read More

    Studies of academic- vs play-based programs for children under five have repeatedly shown that academic advantages are fleeting and disappear after a few years, whereas the social and emotional advantages of developmentally appropriate preschool are lasting.

    In addition, children in play-based programs show better development of executive functioning, attention, and emotional regulation – all of which are more crucial to school and life success than a few months of being ahead in letter skills. While the TK teachers mean well, they are credentialed to teach older children and not trained to work with children who still learn best through play.

  2. Benita Wilson 12 months ago12 months ago

    Transitional kindergarten gives our oldest kindergarteners an extra year of instruction with a credentialed instructor. The question to ask may be: Why are giving a substantial advantage to only these students? They already arrive to kindergarten with the age advantage! Shouldn’t we be giving TK to the children that turn 5 in June, July, and August? They’re the youngest in their classes!

    Replies

    • Paula Campbell 12 months ago12 months ago

      You are so right! It is wildly irrational to exclude the youngest children from this program. When I was a school board member, I argued with a staff person at CDE but she insisted that this was intentional on the part of the Legislature. Makes no sense except if you consider the expense.

    • Stephanie 7 months ago7 months ago

      Thank you, Wally! As a mom of a four-year-old who turns five on August 30 and will be in Kindergarten next year, I've been pointing out this very fact to other parents and teachers. Surprisingly, no one I've spoken to seems to realize that we're giving the TK advantage to kids who will already have the age advantage. I wish that the American Institute of Research (AIR) researchers who completed this study … Read More

      Thank you, Wally! As a mom of a four-year-old who turns five on August 30 and will be in Kindergarten next year, I’ve been pointing out this very fact to other parents and teachers. Surprisingly, no one I’ve spoken to seems to realize that we’re giving the TK advantage to kids who will already have the age advantage. I wish that the American Institute of Research (AIR) researchers who completed this study had acknowledged and discussed the age advantage in their research.

      Thinking about your question, “Shouldn’t we be giving TK to the children that turn 5 in June, July, and August?” and Paula’s post about the CDE person who “insisted that this was intentional on the part of the Legislature,” I suspect that the Legislature didn’t think four years ahead when they devised the legislation. At that time, these students (birthdays between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2) were the youngest in their Kindergarten class. But with each passing year, as the cut-off moved up by one month, those students slowly became the oldest in subsequent enrollment years. In reality, the TK eligibility dates should have moved up to June as the Kindergarten cut-off date moved up to Sept so that the TK would continue to serve students who were the youngest in their classes, not the oldest.

  3. Wally 12 months ago12 months ago

    How did these Transitional Kindergarten kids compare at the end of 1st grade? 2nd Grade?
    If the comparison has not been made yet, it needs to be to see whether there are any long-term beneficial effects. Or will it be just like the results of Head Start which showed that there was zero benefit by the end of 1st grade!