Strengthening the Kindergarten-Third Grade Continuum

Matt Weyer 12/21/2016


With the increasing focus and funding on preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, high-quality programs and their subsequent benefits have been sweeping across the nation. Once these students enter the primary grades—kindergarten through third grade—it is possible that this high level of quality may diminish, leading to fade-out of high-quality preschool effects.

To capitalize on their early investments, state policymakers can continue to expand access to high-quality early care and education, but also can turn to the kindergarten through third grade spectrum to continue enhancing quality and set up children on successful, lifelong trajectories.

Areas such as full-day kindergarten (FDK), social-emotional learning (SEL), kindergarten entry assessments (KEAs), English language learner reclassification procedures (ELL) and student-teacher ratios (Ratios) are strong areas to focus and summarized in the maps below.

What the Research Says

There are several areas of K-3 education that policymakers can target (see list below). While employing these solutions can be effective, rarely are they effective in isolation. Instead, a systemic and comprehensive approach is suggested, one that looks at various elements of kindergarten through third grade as part of much bigger picture, taking into account their various interactions.

Full-Day Kindergarten

Attending full-day kindergarten has a significantly positive effect for students, when compared to their half-day counterparts. These results are especially true for Hispanic/Latino students and those with low literacy levels.

Student-Teacher Ratios

Significantly reducing class size (by 7-10 fewer students per class) has been demonstrated to improve student achievement, especially in the early grades and for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Third-Grade Reading Proficiency

By the end of third grade, students are reading to learn as opposed to learning to read, creating a significant milestone in the academic careers. State policymakers have been very active in creating legislation aimed to identify and support students not reading proficiently by the end of third grade. 

Social-Emotional Learning

Improving self-regulation, emotional intelligence among other mental and emotional processes helps students create long-term positive behaviors. Students who participated in social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum demonstrated an 11 percent gain compared to students who did not receive SEL curriculum. 

Kindergarten Entry Assessments

Kindergarten entry assessments (KEAs) are assessments conducted within the first couple months of a student entering kindergarten. KEAs are designed to assess children's school readiness and developmental skills. KEAs can be especially helpful in determining dual language learners' (DLLs) native and English language abilities and help with classroom placement. 

Transitions from pre-K to K Moving from preschool to kindergarten can be stressful for students and their parents. Effective transition models include preschool children visiting the kindergarten class, orientation activities during the summer before kindergarten entry, parents meeting with K teacher, preschool and K teachers/schools sharing data, among various other activities.
Family Engagement Practices

The early years of a child's education have been deemed crucial for building family-school connections. Children whose parents and families are engaged in and hold high expectations of their education tend to earn better grades, have higher graduations rates, and are more likely to enroll in postsecondary education.

Early Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM Education)

Research has demonstrated that young children’s minds are very receptive to math and logic, and that early mathematics skills are the strongest predictor of future academic achievement. Developing math, along with other STEM skills in high-quality, early education environments couples the predictive power of learning STEM skills with the academic growth and trajectories that early education can provide.


State Legislation

There is considerable variation among states on K-3 policies. Much more on K-3 specific polices can be found on the K-3 State Comparison Database.

  • 15 states plus D.C. require full-day kindergarten.
  • 33 states plus D.C. require the administration of a kindergarten entry assessment (of which nine include a measure of social-emotional development).
  • 17 states plus D.C. require third grade retention for nonproficient readers (15 offer conditional promotion options).
  • Professional development and/or teacher preparation is required for K-3 educators in 38 states.
  • 23 states plus D.C. do not specify reclassification procedures for ELL students.
  • Kindergarten length-of-day requirements range from two to seven hours per day.
  • 31 states provide student-teacher ratio requirements, ranging from 1-to-15 to 1-to-33 for kindergarten and 1-to-17 to 1-to-32 for first through third grade.

Additional Resources

NCSL Resources

Other Resources