First 5 California Co-Funds New AIR Study Showing Transitional Kindergarten Students Have Edge in Math and Literacy

SACRAMENTO, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–California students who attended Transitional Kindergarten were more
advanced than their peers in language, literacy, mathematics, and
executive function, early results of a study by the American Institutes
for Research (AIR) show. The differences amount to as much as a
five-month head start in kindergarten.

“Students who attended Transitional Kindergarten are better prepared for
kindergarten than those who didn’t the year before kindergarten,” report
co-author and AIR senior researcher Karen Manship said.

Transitional Kindergarten grew out of California’s Kindergarten
Readiness Act, passed in 2010. Historically, the state required children
to be five years old by December 2 to enroll in kindergarten. When the
new law moved the cut-off date to September 1, Transitional Kindergarten
was created to serve those who turned five years old between September 2
and December 2.

“This research underlines the importance of California’s decision, when
moving the kindergarten enrollment date to a more appropriate age, to
ensure children with a fall birthday still have access to a quality
education,” report co-funder and First 5 California Executive Director
Camille Maben said. “The study further shows that while TK quality is
locally determined, the state’s investment in TK is paying off in
literacy and numeracy gains, and better readiness for kindergarten. I
hope this study leads more school leaders to use their Local Control
Funding to make early learning investments an achievement gap strategy.”

Key findings from the study, which included more than 2,700 students in
20 districts, include:

  • Transitional Kindergarten has a significant impact on students’
    preliteracy and literacy skills. After controlling for age,
    Transitional Kindergarten students are better at identifying letters
    and words at the beginning of kindergarten than those who did not
    attend the program. The advantage is equal to about five months of
    learning. Transitional Kindergarten students also display a greater
    understanding of the sounds of letters and syllables that make up
    words, giving them about a three-month learning advantage.
  • Students who attended Transitional Kindergarten outperformed their
    peers in mathematics at the beginning of kindergarten. The program
    improved students’ knowledge of basic mathematical concepts and
    symbols. Attending Transitional Kindergarten also improved children’s
    mathematics problem-solving skills at the start of kindergarten, such
    as counting objects, understanding measurement, and completing word
    problems, which amounts to a three-month learning advantage.
  • Students who attended Transitional Kindergarten also have an edge in
    executive function, but no detectable advantage in teacher-rated
    social-emotional skills. Students from Transitional Kindergarten have
    greater executive function (remembering rules, inhibiting impulses,
    and thinking flexibly). However, they did not achieve higher ratings
    than their peers in social skills and behavior.

AIR researchers in San Mateo, California have been studying the state’s
Transitional Kindergarten program since 2011, with support from the
Heising-Simons Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and
First 5 California. Future reports will examine whether effects persist
throughout kindergarten, impacts for different groups of students (such
as English language learners), and characteristics of Transitional
Kindergarten that affect kindergarteners’ skills the most.

To read Impact of California’s Transitional Kindergarten Program
and past papers on the program, visit

About First 5 California

First 5 California, also known as the California Children and
Families Commission, was established after voters passed Proposition 10
in November 1998, which added a tax on tobacco products to fund
education, health, childcare, and other services for children ages 0 to
5 and their families. Its programs and resources are designed to educate
teachers, parents, grandparents, and caregivers about the critical role
they play during a child’s first five years – with the overarching goal
of helping more California kids grow up healthy and ready to succeed in
school and in life. For more information, please visit


First 5 California
Erin Gabel, 916-708-8895