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What Does It Mean for a Child to Be Kindergarten-Ready?

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This week we are hearing from the Stanford-San Francisco Unified School District Partnership. Today's post is the practitioner perspective on the research introduced in Monday's post: Early-Education Research: Transitional Kindergarten Evaluation in San Francisco.

This post is by Pamela Geisler, who worked with SFUSD for six years and is now a consultant, and Meenoo Yashar, Interim Chief of SFUSD's Early Education Department.

Our partnership with Stanford University provides San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) administrators with data analysis and research findings that drive implementation of effective strategies. Over the past six years, the partnership has been essential in helping us answer the question: What does it mean for a child to be Kindergarten-ready? With our recent investment and efforts into building our Transitional Kindergarten Program or "TK," we wanted to understand to what extent San Francisco's TK program prepares students for Kindergarten.

In 2010, California passed the Kindergarten Readiness Act, which allowed children who turn five years old on September 2nd through December 2nd to be age-eligible for an extra year of public school. This Act created a free six-hour program that bridges the preschool and Kindergarten years. Taught by a multiple-subject credentialed teacher, TK is part of a two-year Kindergarten program that offers a modified curriculum which is based on the CA Preschool Learning Foundations and the Kindergarten Common Core Standards. This grade level was designed to give children time to build necessary social, developmental, and academic skills for Kindergarten success and beyond.

Currently, SFUSD has approximately 425 TK students, which constitutes about one-third of the students eligible to enter Kindergarten from SFUSD (SFUSD educates approximately 1,000 rising PreK students). Since 2012-2013, TK has been rolled out in San Francisco schools over a number of years, starting with seven classrooms at five schools to 23 classrooms at 17 schools, currently.

As we started to think about rolling out TK, SFUSD leaders began consulting with our Stanford researcher partners on both TK program design and research opportunities. Initially, SFUSD was focused primarily on the programming, both logistics and content, for this new grade. Many questions presented themselves as we developed a modified curriculum (i.e., scope and sequence, curriculum maps, lesson templates) and a respective standards-based TK report card to monitor growth in both foundations/standards. Stanford had helped the district design a Kindergarten readiness measure (see this PreK-3rd Annual Report for some information on measuring Kindergarten readiness), and based many of the decisions about this TK program design on what the data already told the district about students' assets and needs in this age group.

TK provided both partners in the Stanford-SFUSD partnership a unique and interesting opportunity to do research on the effects of this new program. We wanted to examine how TK students were doing on foundational literacy skills as well as their reading level in TK and Kindergarten.

When Stanford's results indicated that students' foundational literacy skills were more advanced but their reading levels were not necessarily more advanced, we were disappointed and somewhat surprised. This unexpected finding made us reexamine our goals for TK impact. Is it enough that students have an extra year to develop, mature, and grow in ways that are not necessarily measurable? Or should literacy—specifically the ability to read at higher levels—be a key outcome of TK?

If we believe literacy needs to be a key outcome, then, based on Stanford research findings, we will need to take a closer look at our curriculum and instruction, professional learning communities, teacher investment, and school-home connections/partnerships to specifically improve efforts to support not only foundation literacy skills, but reading development.

Now that it appears that TK is a grade that will remain within California's schools, we have an opportunity to adjust our educational strategies and circle back with Stanford partners to re-analyze TK student success as students experiencing the TK program have progressed throughout their educational journey. We have similar questions in PreK as in TK. We do believe that reading skills are fundamental and understand that research supports this (see for example this resource). However, young children are developing in many ways that may not be captured in this study. As we progress with this work, we want to continue to explore with Stanford which activities support children's ability to read and ensure that we are supporting the "whole child."

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The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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