A new study by the American Institutes for Research has found that transitional kindergarten benefits English learner students as much as, or even more than, children from other backgrounds. Currently, one-third of kindergartners are EL students and are key to the success of district transitional kindergarten programs. The California Department of Education defines EL students as those “who cannot speak, read, write or understand English well as a result of English not being their home language.” Currently, EL students make up 33 percent of kindergarten students. While the great majority of these students (84 percent) speak Spanish as a first language, many additional language groups are represented by California ELs including Vietnamese, Mandarin, Filipino and Arabic. The new report references previous research focused on how pre-K programs have raised English language proficiency in children of immigrants and suggests that these programs give EL students an advantage in many subjects — including literacy, math and social skills — over peers who did not attend these programs. Transitional kindergarten is particularly effective due to important features such as teacher quality and curriculum. Under the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, a bill that changed the kindergarten cutoff date from Dec. 1 to Sept. 1 and created a new grade level for those who could not begin kindergarten due to the eligibility change, TK teachers are required to hold a bachelor’s degree and a teaching credential. Comparatively, only 25 percent of preschool teachers in California hold a bachelor’s degree. Requirements to use a modified kindergarten curriculum, a practice that is an important part of high-quality pre-K classrooms, could be one factor in improved academic achievement for EL students. The AIR study also pointed to the location of TK programs on elementary campuses as a benefit, citing that alignment between TK and grades K-3 may be stronger. All of these factors contribute to promoting better school readiness for all students, especially EL students — who particularly benefit from early education. Data collected in this study show that TK improves mathematics knowledge and problem-solving skills; language and literacy skills; and English proficiency of EL students from a range of language groups. For Spanish speakers, those students who attended TK performed better on the California English Language Development Test assessments than those who did not attend TK. The TK group had approximately a 60 point advantage, one full performance level, on proficiency scores. Enrollment in TK also “shows a significant impact on CELDT scores for all Asian language groups.” “As this study and many others have shown, early education can make a big difference in school preparedness and lasting success for English learners,” said Julie Maxwell-Jolly, CSBA director of policy and programs. “School boards can help by ensuring that families of English learners have ready access to high-quality TK programs and know about these programs and the advantages they provide.”
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