Following a high-quality early care and pre-K experience, the kindergarten-through-third-grade years set the foundation upon which future learning builds; and strengthening this continuum creates opportunities for later success. Key components of a quality experience in K-3 include school readiness and transitions, kindergarten requirements, educator quality, prevention, intervention and assessments, and social and emotional learning and mental health.
Education Commission of the States researched the policies and regulations that guide these key components in all 50 states to provide this comprehensive resource. Click on the questions below for 50-State Comparisons, showing how all states approach specific policies, or view a specific state’s approach by going to the individual state profiles page.
- Nineteen states and the District of Columbia require that children attend kindergarten.
- Seventeen states and the District of Columbia require full-day kindergarten, and 39 states plus the District of Columbia require districts to offer kindergarten either full or half day.
- Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have policies in place to guide the transition process from pre-K to kindergarten, with 17 states requiring family engagement in this process.
- Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia require assessments outside of the federally required third-grade assessments, including screeners, diagnostic, summative and formative assessments.
- Twenty states have literacy instruction requirements for teacher training and professional development, ranging from passing an assessment to receiving job-embedded training.
- Seventeen states and the District of Columbia require grade retention for nonproficient third graders, with good cause exemptions, and an additional 10 states allow for grade retention.
- Seventeen states have a provision in statute or regulation limiting the suspension or expulsion of students in pre-K through third grade.
- Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia define social and emotional learning in statute or regulation, and 28 states have pre-service or in-service standards that require knowledge of the social and emotional learning of students.
- Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia require or encourage teacher training and professional development in student mental health and trauma-informed practices.
Click on the items below to see data for all states
School Readiness and Transitions
- Is the state connecting birth-to-age-5 data with K-3?
- Does the state define or otherwise address school readiness? If yes, what is included?
- Are there policies in place to guide the pre-K to kindergarten transition process?
- For those states with pre-K to kindergarten transition guidance, how are families engaged?
- Are kindergarten entrance assessments required? If yes, what are states required to do with the results?
- Does the state require children to attend kindergarten?
- Does the state require the district to offer kindergarten and if so, full or half day? What exemptions exist for districts to offer kindergarten?
- What is the state’s kindergarten entrance date cut off?
- What age exemptions or waivers exist for kindergarten entrance?
- How many instructional hours are required for kindergarten?
- What are the teacher-to-student ratio requirements and class size maximums for grades K-3?
- What are the requirements for pre-service qualifications and for professional development for in-service educators in literacy for grades K-3?
- What are the requirements for pre-service qualifications and for professional development for in-service educators in STEM subjects?
- Does the state have an early learning endorsement or license?
- Does the state have any principal certification and/or endorsement requirement specific to early learning?
Prevention, Intervention and Retention
- Beyond the federally required third-grade assessments, what other assessments are required in grades K-3?
- What are the required uses of assessment data in statute?
- What interventions are available for students in grades K-3?
- Is there a third-grade retention policy? If so, what exemptions are provided?
- For those states with third-grade retention policies, is parental engagement required?
Social and Emotional Learning and Mental Health
- How are social and emotional development and character education emphasized in statute or regulation?
- What are the pre-service preparation and certification, and in-service professional development requirements, for social and emotional learning?
- Does the state have policies in place limiting suspension and/or expulsion of K-3 students?
- What are the mental health and trauma training requirements for K-3 teachers?
- Does the state have a definition of chronic absenteeism, and what policies are in place to address chronic absenteeism in the K-3 grades?
To view a specific state’s approach, go to the state profiles page.
- Building a Better K-3 Literacy System
- Improving Early Childhood Education Systems
- Initiatives From Preschool to Third Grade: A Policymaker’s Guide
- Recent enacted/vetoed legislation: State Education Policy Tracking (select the “Early Learning” issue)
PUBLISHED: September 28, 2020
RESOURCE TYPE: 50-State Comparison