First Advisor

Andrew Mashburn

Date of Publication

Spring 5-30-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Applied Psychology






Readiness for school, Developmental psychology, Early childhood education, Classroom environment, Poor children -- Education (Early childhood)



Physical Description

1 online resource (ix, 253 pages)


The transition into Kindergarten is a critical time for children's development--children's patterns of academic development and engagement with school often start in Kindergarten and persist throughout their academic careers. This is a developmental period that is marked by many changes in children's lives, and therefore it is not a surprise that many children struggle during this transition. These struggles are more common for children who are living in poverty, and although there have been national initiatives to address opportunity gaps in access to early education, investigations into the effectiveness of these programs in promoting children's Kindergarten development have shown mixed results. It is therefore essential to identify the types of early education experiences that are effective in supporting children in having a smooth Kindergarten transition.

This dissertation presents and evaluates six theoretical frameworks that can be used to understand the Kindergarten transition. The school readiness approach to the Kindergarten transition focuses on the ways in which children's Kindergarten-entry skills can lead to their own development during Kindergarten. The Pre-K launch model examines the role of high-quality Pre-K in boosting children's school readiness, and subsequently their development during Kindergarten. The classroom quality perspective describes the supportive qualities of Kindergarten classrooms that may aid in children's development across this transition. The continuity perspective shows that support for continuous high-quality instruction between Pre-K and Kindergarten systems may promote children's growth. The buffer/compensation model proposes that children with higher-quality Pre-K experiences are more resilient to the effects of lower-quality Kindergarten. Finally, the consistency model suggests that alignment of quality between Pre-K and Kindergarten may be beneficial for children regardless of whether that alignment represents high quality instructional practices.

Each of these perspectives provides valuable insight into the Kindergarten transition; however, these theoretical perspectives have not been studied simultaneously to determine the extent to which all may play a role in children's development during the Kindergarten transition, particularly the development of children who are living in poverty. The current study used data from the National Center for Early Development and Learning's Multi-State Pre-kindergarten Study (NCEDL) to chart children's experiences in their Pre-K and Kindergarten classes to determine whether there are qualities of children's experiences before and throughout the Kindergarten transition that support their development during Kindergarten, and evaluated the extent to which these patterns support these major theoretical perspectives.

The study found that children's Kindergarten-entry skills were the best predictors of their end-of-Kindergarten outcomes, showing support for the school readiness perspective. In the domain of instructional support, children's concurrent classroom experiences predicted their academic outcomes during a given year, showing support for the classroom quality framework. In the domain of emotional support, statistical effects of Kindergarten emotional support on children's outcomes were seen only under conditions in which Pre-K emotional support had also been high, showing conditional support for the continuity model. Consistency of children's emotional support, when controlling for quality, was negatively related to their social and emotional development, indicating that consistent emotional support alone is not beneficial without taking into account the quality of that emotional support. Associations between Pre-K quality and children's Kindergarten development were not translated through boosts in school readiness, indicating that while Pre-K experiences do matter for children's development during the Kindergarten transition, that relationship is not best described through a launch model. And finally, any benefits of higher quality emotional and instructional interactions during both Pre-K and Kindergarten were largely concentrated in the group of children who were not living in poverty, while higher Pre-K quality was at times related to lower Kindergarten outcomes for children who were living in poverty. Implications for future research and policy are discussed.


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