Promising Practices for Preschool and Transitional Kindergarten

How California Districts Create Access and Coherent Systems
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Benjamin W. Cottingham
Policy Analysis for California Education, Stanford University
H. Alix Gallagher
Policy Analysis for California Education, Stanford University
Leah Faw
University of California, Berkeley


California’s ambitious investment in Universal Transitional Kindergarten (UTK) reflects a commitment to providing access to UTK for all 4-year-olds in public schools by the 2025–26 academic year. However, the implementation of transitional kindergarten (TK) presents challenges for districts in aligning this new grade coherently with existing grade levels and prekindergarten (PK) options within the context of the mixed-delivery model. This model adds complexity to achieving coherence as students transition from PK or TK to the existing district system. This report from PACE identifies four promising practices observed during the 2022–23 school year to support access and coherence in early childhood education:

Coordinate across providers within the mixed-delivery model, aiming to ensure universal access and vertical alignment of PK and TK offerings. San Rafael City Schools and Santa Paula Unified School District have coordinated with local and regional early education stakeholders respectively to provide universal access to PK and TK programs that are aligned with community needs. These collaborative efforts have helped families navigate options for early care and education and have increased the available seats in PK and TK.

Establish clear and aligned expectations for PK–3 standards and instruction across providers and school sites. Arvin Union School District (AUSD) aligned math learning progressions in PK–3, ensuring a unified vision of effective instruction across district, county, and external support providers. AUSD’s commitment to vertical alignment has created a systemic approach to improving math instruction across grade levels and sites.

Monitor PK–3 student learning and progress to guide decision-making. The Monterey Peninsula Unified School District has implemented robust data-use systems, administering various assessments to track student growth from TK through third grade. This proactive approach of using local data informs system improvements and identifies individual student and classroom needs.

Develop coherent professional learning that builds capacity for high-quality teaching and learning in the early grades. Dinuba Unified School District (DUSD) has developed a comprehensive professional learning system that includes TK classrooms in districtwide adult capacity building. The district emphasizes shared expectations for literacy instruction, employing monitoring systems to track student outcomes and instructional practices consistently. This allows DUSD to provide targeted professional development for all teachers, fostering a cohesive approach to teaching and learning from TK through sixth grade.

Suggested citation Cottingham, B. W., Gallagher, H. A., & Faw, L. (2024, January). Promising practices for preschool and transitional kindergarten: How California districts create access and coherent systems [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education.