3 States Share Efforts to Improve Kindergarten Transitions

Early Learning

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Education Commission of the States extends a special thanks to Lee Anne Larsen, Angela Towers and Kellie Kohler for sharing their states’ innovative work with us for this post.

Attendance declines and interruptions to instruction and care have led to a rise in behavioral issues and growing gaps in literacy and math for young children. Given these challenges, the transition into kindergarten has come into focus as a critical junction where education systems can support early learners by focusing on the whole child and taking a more comprehensive approach.

In 2021, Education Commission of the States supported a group of state teams working to make systems-level improvements to their transition policies and practices. State teams conducted policy gap analyses, surveyed families and practitioners, and collaborated with leaders across state agencies. As a result, they were able to innovate, accelerate efforts, and help move the needle for kids and families. Below, three state leaders share what they’ve been up to since we began working together, in their own words.

Lee Anne Larsen, early learning team coordinator, Maine Department of Education.

In Maine, the department of education partnered with the office of child and family services, children’s cabinet, and child development services to enhance its kindergarten transitions website and to develop a professional learning series to strengthen practitioners’ ability to support positive transitions. To inform this work, Maine’s team surveyed parents/caregivers and practitioners (e.g., kindergarten teachers, early childhood educators, child care providers) and hosted focus groups to gather feedback about effective transition practices, challenges to the process and ideas for how to improve web-based resources.

The focus groups deepened leaders’ understanding of the kinds of supports that culturally diverse populations of students need. The state’s four-part professional development series focuses on the roles that schools, families, children and communities play in bolstering supportive transitions, including the formation of local transition teams and plans.

Angela Towers, family engagement transition coordinator, Mississippi Department of Education.

In Mississippi, the department of education, in partnership with the department of human services, developed the Mississippi Transition Toolkit for Families and Providers to create comprehensive, equitable transitions for all children regardless of the program they attend.

This toolkit addresses formal and informal programs and settings, such as center-based programs, family, friend and neighbor care and everything in between. During the yearlong process, the two state agencies reviewed and revised state transition policies and procedures, as well as learned from leaders in West Virginia. The Mississippi team highlighted the opportunity to connect across the departments of education and human services as extremely effective in strengthening the partnership and outcomes for kids and families.

Kellie Kohler, Head Start collaboration office director, Utah Department of Workforce Services.

Utah developed its Kindergarten Transition Toolkit to encourage early childhood programs and schools to work together to mitigate developmental gaps and facilitate greater school readiness. It also focuses on continuity of care for children transitioning from preschool settings into kindergarten. The Utah Head Start Collaboration Office, office of child care and Utah State Board of Education designed the innovative toolkit to facilitate discussions and to form lasting partnerships between parents and early childhood stakeholders, so children entering kindergarten are excited and ready to learn new things.

In May, ECS hosted the Kindergarten Transition Policy Symposium featuring national experts and state leaders from across the country, who shared lessons learned and implications from their collective efforts. Attendees dug into the complexities of kindergarten transitions, including improving equity, family engagement, cross-agency collaboration, workforce supports and much more.

If your state is interested in how ECS can support kindergarten transitions work, reach out to us — our team is excited to support your specific state needs.

Author profile
Principal at Education Commission of the States | mweyer@ecs.org

As a principal, Matt focuses on early learning issues. Prior to joining the Education Commission of the States, Matt worked for over four years covering early learning issues for the National Conference of State Legislatures, earned his doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from the University of Denver and was a kindergarten teacher in a bilingual classroom for Denver Public Schools. When Matt is not working, he can be found snowboarding or trail running in beautiful Colorado.

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