Connecticut’s Approach to Early Childhood ESSA Supports

The state's ESSA plan focuses on strengthening the pre-K to grade 12 continuum to give children a stronger foundation for lifelong success
Blog Post
June 11, 2019

This article originally appeared on the website of the Partnership for Early Education Research (PEER).

New America is proud to partner with the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) on this second ESSA blog series. This time we are exploring how state ESSA plans and ideas have turned into action. Additionally, the series will highlight how states are connecting their ESSA work to the planning and early childhood coordination efforts underway with the new Preschool Development Grants (PDG-B-5). You can find the entire series here.

Research shows that achievement gaps begin early in life and, without intervention, may widen over time. Focusing educational opportunities and resources on young children and their families is a key strategy to reducing and possibly preventing this achievement gap. We also know that investments from age three to grade three greatly impact children’s development and future life-long success.

In Connecticut’s ESSA State Plan, the department committed to strengthening the pre-kindergarten to grade 12 continuum to give children a stronger foundation for lifelong success. As part of this commitment, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) is working to provide local education agencies (LEAs) and schools with resources focused on four critical transitions: (1) pre-K to kindergarten, (2) elementary to middle school, (3) elementary/middle school to high school, and (4) high school to post-secondary education, training, or work.

CSDE in partnership with the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, EducationCounsel in Washington DC, and statewide stakeholders in early childhood and elementary programs, has developed a collection of pre-K to kindergarten transition resources for schools and districts. These resources were developed to assist school districts in strengthening the pre-kindergarten to grade 12 continuum, easing the transition between these two systems, and providing children a stronger foundation for lifelong success. Resources include:

1) Effective transition planning requires elementary leaders and educators to analyze the “landscape” of early care and education in their community. Through a data framework, The Early Childhood Landscape Analysis Tool for Connecticut Schools and Districts helps district and school leaders better understand and respond to the needs of students and their families. This tool is designed to promote cross-sector collaboration, identifying and leveraging the resources available to enhance outcomes for young children and their families.

2) Transitioning to Kindergarten: the Why, What, and How of this Important Milestone for Connecticut Students outlines why transition points are critical for success and provides five core components for effective transitions. It outlines effective pre-transition planning, identifies necessary collaboration between community providers, teachers, leaders, and families, and describes core transition activities, such as reaching out to families and community-based early childhood providers, developing local economies of scale, and family and provider feedback. The recommended activities are based on research and best practices. It also includes guidance on professional development, developing family partnerships, leveraging existing resources, and the key components of effective communication before, during, and after the pre-K to kindergarten transition. The focus of this guidance is to promote transitions through a systematic approach, rather than seeing transitions as individual activities.

3) The Connecticut State Department of Education’s Evidence-Based Guide for Early Learning represents the CSDE’s “first, best effort” in providing schools and districts with evidence-based practices for: (1) building evidence-based early learning systems that ensure high-quality and alignment within and between every grade from age three to grade three; (2) designing and implementing developmentally appropriate ways to effectively teach young learners; (3) capitalizing on high-impact professional learning for early childhood and elementary educators in schools and the community; and, (4) developing extended learning opportunities that include building two-way relationships and promoting effective communication with families and the community.

The CSDE Turnaround Office unveiled these resources at an Early Childhood Symposium for Connecticut’s Alliance Districts in May 2018. The Symposium was attended by more than 120 educators, along with representatives from state and federal agencies, universities, community organizations, and philanthropic organizations. CSDE also coordinated an early learning community of practice for the 2018-19 school year using the “Transition to K and Landscape Analysis” tools. The community of practice included the identification of individual LEA problems of practice and strategies to better understand how to find, interpret and present data with a community specific, cross-sector team. This process informed the development and implementation of plans to build effective and sustainable systems of transition and to better equip school communities to plan for their youngest learners.

As described in an article on Education Week’s Early Years blog, it is both critical and challenging to support children’s transition into the K-12 education system; Connecticut is taking concrete steps in this area. The CSDE hopes that schools and districts will benefit from the new pre-K to kindergarten transition resources as they seek to more effectively support this critical transition.

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