Advancing Preschool Through Elementary School Alignment and Continuity

Math learning in preschool is often disconnected from math learning in the early elementary grades. This disconnect can lead to students experiencing uneven instructional practices, which can compromise their learning. The goal of the DREME Preschool Through Elementary School Coherence (COHERE) project is to identify policies and practices that are associated with high quality, continuous math education from preschool through the early primary grades. 

This is a collection of COHERE project-related resources.

PreK Through 2nd Grade (EMC-PK2) Early Mathematics Coherence Classroom Observation Instrument

The PreK Through 2nd Grade (EMC-PK2) Early Mathematics Coherence Classroom Observation Instrument captures elements of mathematics teaching and learning across the early grades, from preschool through second grade. The instrument was adapted from the Classroom Observation of Early Mathematics-Environment and Teaching (COEMET version 4; Sarama & Clements, 2010) and the Advanced Narrative Record of Early Childhood Classroom Observations (Farran, Meador, Keene, Bilbrey & Vorhaus, 2015).

The focus of the EMC-PK2 is on alignment and coherence across classrooms and teaching practices that often appear quite different. In kindergarten to second grade, trained observers spend a full period of math instruction in the classroom, usually lasting between 60-90 minutes. In preK classrooms, the observation period lasts three hours since preK math time is usually not structured as a single lesson.

For questions or to request the instrument, please email DREME Network members Dale Farran, Kelley Durkin, and Luke Rainey.

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Policy Briefs

Building Infrastructure to Support Coaching Programs in School Districts

School districts are increasingly employing instructional coaches to support teacher learning. This move is supported by research demonstrating that ongoing coaching that is embedded in teachers’ practice can be an effective strategy for improving teaching, more effective than short-term methods (e.g., workshops) that are disconnected from teachers’ day-to-day work. Research on the effects of coaching, however, is mixed, which indicates that coaching in and of itself is not necessarily productive. Rather, how and in what context coaching is implemented matters.

California’s Transitional Kindergarten Is the Connective Tissue Between Preschool and Kindergarten

Elementary schools in California are now serving younger children. As transitional kindergarten expands, most children will come to school at the age of 4 years. And preschools serving children as young as 3 years are increasingly connected to elementary schools, often under the principal’s leadership. Integrating early childhood education into elementary schools offers the opportunity to create a coherent educational experience for young children.

PreK-12 Is the New Reality: How Do We Make it Work?

Preschool attendance is now the norm, and preschool is increasingly built into K-12 school systems. In many respects, as kindergarten has become the new first grade, preschool is becoming the new kindergarten. In this article, we draw on our four-year study of school district efforts to create more seamless pathways from preschool to elementary school. We offer a framework based on this and others’ research for considering strategies to ensure the long-term benefits of investment in preschool and to improve student learning in the early grades.

School Leaders Are Key to Bringing Early Childhood Education into Elementary School

Advocates for preschool through third grade continuity focus primarily on district policies and practices. But many studies have demonstrated that leaders at the school level play a pivotal role in interpreting and moderating the effects of district decisions. District policies or practices will not likely be effective in promoting high quality and coherent instruction across preschool and the early elementary grades without the well-informed and wholehearted support of school leaders.

Research Publications

Early Math Trajectories: Low-income Children’s Mathematics Knowledge from Ages 4 to 11

Early mathematics knowledge is a strong predictor of later academic achievement, but children from low-income families enter school with weak mathematics knowledge. An early math trajectories model is proposed and evaluated within a longitudinal study of 517 low-income American children from ages 4 to 11. This model includes a broad range of math topics, as well as potential pathways from preschool to middle grades mathematics achievement. In preschool, nonsymbolic quantity, counting, and patterning knowledge predicted fifth-grade mathematics achievement. By the end of first grade, symbolic mapping, calculation, and patterning knowledge were the important predictors. Furthermore, the first-grade predictors mediated the relation between preschool math knowledge and fifth-grade mathematics achievement. Findings support the early math trajectories model among low-income children.

Fostering Pre-K to Elementary Alignment and Continuity in Mathematics in Urban School Districts: Challenges and Possibilities

Learning in pre-kindergarten is often disconnected from learning in the primary grades. Teachers at different grade levels typically use different curricular materials and instructional strategies, repeat material that students already know, or implement instruction for which children are insufficiently prepared. The disconnect between pre-K and early elementary school can compromise student learning and fail to take advantage of the gains children made in preschool.

Instructional Policy From Pre-K to Third Grade: The Challenges of Fostering Alignment and Continuity in Two School Districts

In an effort to improve learning for young children and respond to preschool fade out, some districts are working on “PreK-3” initiatives to create better connected learning pathways for children. In these pathways, primary grades continue to build on what children learn in preschool; they also present potential implementation challenges that are not accounted for in the literature. Using conceptual tools from institutional theory and empirical evidence from a study of two school districts, we show how challenges arise as districts try to bridge the divergent and entrenched institutional systems of preschool and elementary. Our findings suggest that these systems are each held in place by their own set of regulative, normative, and cultural-cognitive mechanisms that reinforce one another thereby providing an explanation for why beliefs and practices are so resistant to change. This analysis also points to practical implications that may lead to better connections and learning experiences for young children.

PK–3: What Does it Mean for Instruction?

“PK–3” has become a rallying cry among many developmental scientists and educators. A central component of this movement is alignment between preschool and the early elementary grades. Many districts have made policy changes designed to promote continuity in children’s educational experiences as they progress from preschool through third grade— to provide children with a seamless education that will sustain the gains made in preschool and lead to better developmental and learning outcomes overall. This report proposes a conceptualization of productive continuity in academic instruction, as well as in the social climate and classroom management practices that might affect children’s social-emotional development. It also considers ways in which schools might seek to achieve continuity in parents’ and children’s experiences. Finally, the report proposes specific state and district policies and school practices that are likely to promote continuous and meaningful learning experiences.

PreK-3 Alignment in California’s Education System: Obstacles and Opportunities

This report reviews the opportunities and challenges that must be addressed to better align PreK-3 education in California. The report describes policies and practices that districts have implemented to strengthen alignment; and identifies the main barriers that districts and schools encounter when attempting to align preschool and the elementary grades.

Quality and Continuity in Young Children’s Educational Experiences

Experts have proposed two likely explanations for the erosion of the advantages achieved in preschool during the early elementary grades: (1) the preschool “treatment” was not sufficiently strong, and (2) it was not followed up with high-quality educational opportunities in the early elementary grades.

Understanding Kindergarten Readiness

In this study, we aimed to understand what readiness meant to educators in two districts that were in the midst of developing pre-K–3 initiatives. We examined how readiness was conceptualized by teachers, school leaders, and district leaders as well as what factors influenced their understandings. We found that educators in our study tended to locate readiness within individual children. Although educators did draw from common early childhood ideologies to describe how they understood readiness, district organizational structures and measurement tools also affected their understandings. As public pre-K continues to become part of K–12 systems and districts make choices about how to define readiness, we recommend districts inspect the different messages educators receive about readiness and then align their efforts to ensure their goals are met. We also suggest districts consider employing definitions of readiness that focus on ready schools rather than on unready children.