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Preschool through Third Grade (P-3) Alignment

CDE seeks to elevate the role of high-quality, inclusive and multilingual preschool, strong early intervention services, and P-3 alignment in ensuring the future of California’s children.

The California Department of Education (CDE) is committed to interrupting and counteracting inequities, racism, and bias and also closing opportunity gaps to ensure all children start school ready to succeed and all schools are ready to support every child’s success. To help achieve this goal, CDE seeks to elevate the role of high-quality, inclusive and multilingual preschool, strong early intervention services, and P-3 alignment in ensuring the future of California’s children.

The CDE is committed to using equity, inclusion, and quality standards that support effective learning experiences as guiding principles for data-driven decision-making about key P-3 strategies to meaningfully impact systems, programs, schools, and policies across the state. Specifically, the CDE’s P-3 Alignment effort is designed to bring together stakeholders across systems to identify, develop, and implement policy and practice solutions focused on ensuring developmentally-informed, rigorous, and joyful learning experiences are available to all children across the preschool and early elementary years. The resources on this page reflect areas of focus to achieve these goals.

Defining P-3 Alignment

P-3 alignment includes both horizontal and vertical alignment and coherence across grades and systems to improve coordination of policies and practices in preschool, across transitions to Transitional Kindergarten (TK) and Kindergarten, and through third grade and beyond. The CDE’s P-3 alignment effort stems from a belief that gaps in children’s opportunities and learning outcomes demand system-level reform at the state, county, district, school, and community level to disrupt inequities, address bias, and promote equitable opportunity.

Successful P-3 alignment requires cross-sector work, joint administrator and teacher professional learning opportunities, aligned instructional tools and learning environments, data-driven decision-making, engaged families, and continuity of pathways.

Inclusion and Equity

High-quality Preschool

A large body of research on contemporary high-quality preschool programs finds attendance leads to significant benefits for children, especially among children from low-income families, children with disabilities, and dual language learners. The potential of high-quality preschool to improve the outcomes of California’s young children is clear—especially when those programs capitalize on the strengths of children and their families. The CDE is focused on ensuring all children are given the opportunity to learn in an inclusive, integrated environment that meets their individual needs.

CDE Resources

Supporting Research


In CA and nationwide, children with disabilities and their families continue to face significant barriers to accessing inclusive high-quality preschool programs that can provide needed services early and remediate the need for more intensive (and expensive) services later. Too many young children with disabilities are only offered the option of receiving special education services in settings separate from their peers without disabilities. This practice is out of step with the research which clearly supports the benefits of inclusion for young children with and without disabilities. Creating policies, programs, and practices that utilize this flexibility would lead to larger impacts for all children and would support equity.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design is one approach that can support educators in preschool, TK, and K-3 settings to create environments that are designed to support all children’s success. By utilizing universal design in all programs and classrooms from preschool through third grade, educators and administrators can ensure that children with disabilities, children with delays or unidentified needs, and all other children are optimally supported to engage with instruction.


The transition from preschool to a TK/Kindergarten classroom is an exciting and important time for all children and their families. For children with disabilities, transitions from preschool into the K-12 system are particularly challenging and critical to their continued success. Family engagement, and ensuring teachers and administrators support families as partners in the transition process, is key to promoting successful transitions for all children.

Addressing Bias and Eliminating Exclusionary Discipline

One barrier to high-quality early learning opportunities, especially for children of color, is the prevalence of suspension and expulsion in preschool and the early grades. The CDE is committed to disrupting inequities to address implicit and explicit bias and promote equitable opportunity for California’s young children. One strategy to achieve these goals includes eliminating the use of exclusionary discipline practices in the early years.

The CDE embraces policies and practices that support safe and fair environments for children. One approach lies in training for educators and administrators-- training on implicit bias and counteracting racism, school climate, classroom management, and identification of developmental delays (which can manifest as challenging behaviors) as well as access to services to meet the needs of all children in inclusive settings.

Supporting Dual Language Learners (DLLs)

California is home to the largest population of DLLs (termed English Learners (ELs) in the K-12 system) in the nation. More than 2.3 million California public school students speak a language other than English at home. Many of these children struggle in school, because California has yet to adopt a comprehensive approach to supporting multilingualism and multiliteracy across the early years and grades.

Like other opportunity gaps, the academic challenges that some DLL/ELs face are best addressed early. Research has demonstrated positive impacts of preschool that are as strong or stronger for DLLs and children of immigrants than for other children, especially when those early learning experiences are high-quality and intentionally support home language development. Given the specific challenges and opportunities faced in school by DLL/EL students, preschool programs and early elementary practices may impact them even more than their English-only speaking peers.

Individualized Instruction through Assessment and Observation

In order to align learning opportunities from preschool into TK or Kindergarten and beyond, sharing information between educators and schools about children’s strengths and challenges is critical. In California State Preschool Programs, teachers conduct assessments, using the Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP). Teachers in K-3 classrooms track children’s progress but often do not get information about the children that are entering their classrooms, and the assessment tools they use may be misaligned with DRDP. In order to ensure K-3 instruction builds on, rather than repeats, knowledge and skills that children have already mastered, assessments and observations must be better aligned and data must be shared in a comprehensive, state-wide approach.

Achieving this vision will require taking steps towards establishing an integrated data system from Cradle to Career.

Professional Learning Opportunities to Support All Educators

With sufficient and up-to-date knowledge, skill, and experience, early educators play a critical role in supporting each child’s potential and identifying areas where additional support is needed. However, historically, the early childhood workforce, in particular, has been under-valued, especially in terms of compensation and benefits; under-supported with few educators receiving the coaching, professional learning, and critical planning time; and too often under-prepared by a higher education system that is not designed to meet their needs. Recruiting and retaining a diverse pipeline of qualified and effective early educators and special education teachers, and supporting them with high-quality professional learning opportunities, is central to ensuring the effectiveness of CA’s preschool programs and laying a strong foundation for alignment across the early grades.

Concepts that children have learned during their preschool experience are too often retaught in kindergarten due to a lack of curriculum alignment, difficulty transferring and utilizing preschool assessment data, and disparate professional learning opportunities among teachers of young children. Professional learning opportunities that bring together preschool and K-3 teachers can help communities build a shared understanding of best practice and a shared sense of mission around supporting all children to succeed. Teachers who are well-prepared and supported are better equipped to provide inclusive, individualized instruction and sustain the gains of all young children.

Building Leaders with P-3 Expertise in Early Childhood and TK-12

CDE seeks to support state and local leaders, including directors, administrators, school board members, and others in bridging preschool, special education, and multilingual support systems in an effort to break down silos and create cohesion across the early years and grades that supports optimal development and learning for all children.

Preschool administrators and elementary school principals, alongside school board members and key leaders at county offices of education, in school districts, and other community organizations, can play an invaluable role in supporting P-3 alignment efforts. In order to ensure efforts to align P-3 instruction, assessment, curriculum, transitions, professional learning and other best practices succeed, leadership at all levels need to be engaged and committed to improving the opportunities provided to children through intentional partnership across the early years and early grades. Like their teacher-level counterparts, these leaders may need professional learning opportunities to instill basic knowledge about what high-quality early learning looks like, why it may look different from classroom experiences in later grades, and how to support teachers and families in both early learning and elementary schools.

Additional Resources

Additional resources for disrupting inequities and promoting equitable access in P-3 are provided below.


Webinars are a vital way for CDE to share foundational knowledge and engage in growth and learning with the field on implementation of P-3 alignment strategies.

June 3, 2021 – Building Back Better: Using P-3 Strategies that Support the Whole Child External link opens in new window or tab. (Video; 1:30:19)

During this session, the first in a P-3 Webinar Series to work with and support our stakeholders as they consider, plan for, and implement P-3 strategies at every level, Opportunities for All Branch leadership was joined by National Expert Kristie Kauerz, Director of the National P-3 Center for a discussion of how state and district leaders can utilize unprecedented investments at the state and federal level to address the short-term needs associated with the pandemic and implement long-term structural changes that will strengthen P-3 alignment through explicit P-3 strategies to support students, teachers, and schools.

Policy Resources

Supporting Research

Questions:   Opportunities for All Branch |
Last Reviewed: Friday, April 26, 2024
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