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How Alabama is Strengthening the PreK-3rd Grade Continuum

November 28, 2017
Emily Workman
New America

Building a solid foundation of social-emotional, behavioral, and cognitive skills in early childhood is critical for children to successfully engage in more complex, analytical learning in the latter parts of their educational careers. We know that this distinct period of child development spans from birth through third grade, yet policymakers and even educators frequently treat the early elementary years, from kindergarten through third grade, similar to grades 4-12.  As a result, many K-3 students don’t have access to the unique, developmentally-appropriate instruction and supports they need.

New America’s comprehensive review of state pre-K through 3rd grade (PreK-3rd) policies in 2015 found that although no state has successfully created a seamless, high-quality early education continuum, many had taken great strides to do so. Alabama, for example, showed significant progress in certain areas like ensuring pre-K quality and providing access to free, full-day kindergarten. Albeit a relatively small program serving just 25 percent of the state’s four-year-olds, Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program has consistently seen increased funding and expanded access over the years. It is also one of only six state programs that meets all of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER)’s 10 quality benchmarks, having done so for 10 consecutive years.

But while most states have focused their early childhood efforts on expanding access to and improving quality of pre-K, we know that in order for children to sustain the gains made in high-quality pre-K programs, they also need access to high-quality instruction and supports in the K-3 grades. New America’s 2015 analysis revealed that Alabama had room to grow in key policy areas such as providing ongoing K-3 assessments and creating standards and teaching practices that emphasized social-emotional development. This year, however, the state has taken an intentional step towards improving its PreK-3rd continuum by providing supports to schools that are committed to replicating the successes enjoyed in the state’s pre-K programs into grades K-3. This new effort is called the Pre Through 3 Initiative.