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Strengthening the Early Childhood Continuum from Pre-K to Grade Three

August 28, 2018
by Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) Education Consultants, Andrea Brinnel, Lisa Lamenzo and Iris White

Research shows that achievement gaps begin early in life and, without intervention, may widen over time. Focusing educational opportunities and resources on young children and their families is a key strategy to reducing and possibly preventing this achievement gap. We also know that investments from age three to grade three greatly impact children’s development and future life-long success.

In the Connecticut Consolidated State Plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) committed to strengthening the prekindergarten (PreK) to grade 12 continuum to give children a stronger foundation for lifelong success. As part of this commitment, CSDE is working to provide local education agencies (LEAs) and schools with resources focused on four critical transitions: (1) preschool to kindergarten, (2) elementary to middle school, (3) elementary/middle school to high school, and (4) high school to post-secondary education, training, or work.

In partnership with the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC) and other key stakeholders, and with support from EducationCounsel in Washington DC, CSDE has developed a suite of PreK to kindergarten transition resources for schools and districts:

  1. Effective transition planning requires elementary leaders and educators to analyze the “landscape” of early care and education in their community. Through a data framework, The Early Childhood Landscape Analysis Tool for Connecticut Schools and Districts helps district and school leaders better understand and respond to the needs of students and their families. This tool is de­signed to promote cross-sector collaboration, identifying and leveraging the resources avail­able to outcomes for young children and their families.
  2. Transitioning to Kindergarten: the Why, What, and How of this Important Milestone for Connecticut Students outlines why transition points are critical for success and provides five core components for effective transitions. It outlines effective pre-transition planning, identifies necessary collaboration between community providers, teachers, leaders, and families, and describes core transition activities, such as reaching out to families and community-based early childhood providers, developing local economies of scale, and family and provider feedback.  The recommended activities are based on research and best practices. It also includes guidance on professional development, developing family partnerships, leveraging existing resources, and the key components of effective communication before, during, and after the PreK to kindergarten transition. The focus of this guidance is to promote transitions through a systematic approach, rather than seeing transitions as individual activities.
  3. The Connecticut State Department of Education’s Evidence-Based Guide for Early Learning represents the CSDE’s “first, best effort” in providing schools and districts with evidence-based practices for: (1) building evidence-based early learning systems that ensure high-quality and alignment within and between every grade from age three to grade three; (2) designing and implementing developmentally-appropriate ways to effectively  teach young learners; (3) capitalizing on high-impact professional learning for early childhood and elementary educators in schools and the community; and, (4) developing extended learning opportunities that include building two-way relationships and promoting effective communication with families and the community.

The CSDE Turnaround Office unveiled these resources at an Early Childhood Symposium for Connecticut’s Alliance Districts in May 2018, attended by over 120 educators, along with representatives from state and federal agencies, universities, community organizations, and philanthropic organizations. CSDE is also coordinating an Early Learning Community of Practice for the 2018-19 school year using the Transitioning to Kindergarten and Landscape Analysis tools. The Community of Practice will include the identification of individual LEA problems of practice and strategies to better understand how to find, interpret and present data with a community specific, cross-sector team. This process will inform the development and implementation of a plan to build an effective and sustainable system of transition, and better equip school communities to plan for their youngest learners.

As described in an article on Education Week’s Early Years blog, it is both critical and challenging to support children’s transition into the K-12 education system; Connecticut is taking concrete steps in this area. The CSDE hopes that schools and districts will benefit from the new PreK to kindergarten transition resources as they seek to more effectively support this critical transition.

Andrea Brinnel is an Education Consultant in the CSDE Academic Office’s Bureau of Special Education; Lisa Lamenzo and Iris White are Education Consultants in the CSDE Turnaround Office.

Submitted by Joanna Meyer on August 21, 2018