Achievement gap exists for kids even before kindergarten

Learning letters
Two children learn their letters at a child care facility in Bemidji, Minn., in this file photo from February 2009.
MPR Photo/Tom Robertson

State education officials have released new data showing an achievement gap exists for students in Minnesota, even before they begin elementary school.

The Minnesota Readiness Study finds children of color and children who live in poverty are less likely to be considered ready for kindergarten than white students and those living above the poverty line.

According to the study, 60 percent of all students were considered "proficient," meaning they had enough skills to enter kindergarten. But only 44 percent of Hispanic children were considered ready for kindergarten, compared to 63 percent of white children.

State Education Department spokeswoman Charlene Briner says it's not surprising that the achievement gap between children of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and between those from different economic situations, is showing up in children at such young ages.

"These gaps that we see in our early learners are consistent all the way through," she said. "It's not a surprise to us. It's another piece of evidence that really affirms that there are some significant gaps that we need to overcome in order to make sure every child learns."

Briner adds that the study provides more evidence that encouraging more opportunities for early childhood education is crucial.

The study measured 5,600 Minnesota students during their first eight weeks of kindergarten in several areas, including physical development, language and mathematical thinking.

Among the results, 63 percent of white students were considered ready for kindergarten, compared to 44 percent of Hispanic students, 44 percent of American Indian students, and 57 percent of black students.

In addition, 52 percent of students who live below the federal poverty line were proficient, compared to 69 percent of students who live above the poverty line.

The report analyzed students who entered kindergarten in the fall of 2010. Scores for students who entered kindergarten in September 2011 are being analyzed now.