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La Crosse area students are starting kindergarten ready to read, according to standardized test results.

Most kindergarten students in western Wisconsin are meeting benchmarks set by the state for literacy screening. All five school districts in La Crosse County either met or exceeded state averages in the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening test, administered last fall for the first time.

Statewide, about 10 percent of Wisconsin kindergartners weren’t prepared for classroom reading instruction, according to PALS results obtained by the Wisconsin State Journal. About 7 percent of students in the La Crosse School District failed to meet the benchmark; 10 percent in Bangor, 3 percent in West Salem and 5 percent in Holmen and Onalaska school districts are behind.

Regional school officials said Monday the results show that caring communities and early childhood education programs are key to teaching young children to read.

“It takes a whole village,” said Roger Fruit, director of instruction for the Onalaska School District. “You have parents who understand how valuable it is to get kids involved with books and reading.”

The main purpose of PALS is to identify students who struggle with certain literacy fundamentals and need intervention, said Patrick Gasper, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Instruction.

“A child not meeting the benchmark could be (a sign of) inadequate experience with literacy, a special education need, or it could be general slow development,” said Beth Graue, a UW-Madison education professor and expert on early childhood education.

Gov. Scott Walker has proposed $2.8 million in his biennial budget to add the test in grades 1 and 2 and 4-year-old kindergarten starting in fall 2014.

The State Journal obtained the results under the state’s Open Records Law. DPI doesn’t plan to publish the information because the test is a tool for classroom instruction and not meant to compare students, schools and districts, Gasper said.

The screening measures a student’s ability to recognize words and sounds. Teachers can use PALS results to tweak instruction — a helpful tool for those with students from a wide range of backgrounds, Fruit said.

“There’s lots of different pages that those little 5-year-olds can come into school with,” Fruit said.

The West Salem district had the highest rate in the county for kindergartners who met the benchmark. Superintendent Troy Gunderson credits a high participation rate in early childhood education programs.

He said the rate in other districts would likely reflect how many children take pre-kindergarten classes.

“It’s a good discussion to see where our kids are at when they get here,” Gunderson said.

Statewide, 89 percent of kindergartners met the benchmark for the fall test, which gauged early literacy skills such as letter and letter sound recognition. Kindergartners are in the process of taking the spring version of the test. Districts also had the option to administer a mid-year version of the test in the winter.

The results mirror those in other states using the test, Graue said, including Virginia, where it was developed.

Results also varied among the state’s more than 400 school districts. In 34 smaller districts, all students met the benchmark, while in one district half of the 18 kindergartners who took the test showed a need for extra help. Among large districts, Racine had the smallest percentage of students meeting the benchmark at 74 percent.

Dane County’s school districts as a group had the same rate of kindergartners meeting the benchmark as the state. District results ranged from 84 percent in Madison to 99 percent in Marshall and Deerfield.

Results from 15 of Milwaukee’s independent charter schools showed 93 percent of students entering those schools met the benchmark. Among Milwaukee Public Schools, 81 percent were ready for regular reading instruction.

Graue said there has been some discussion in the state of using the PALS results to evaluate K-2 teachers, but she advised against that because the test isn’t designed for accountability purposes.

Results from the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening test for kindergartners show most area students are meeting benchmarks.

La Crosse School District

  • 93 percent met benchmark
  • 64.7 mean sum score

Holmen

  • 94 percent met benchmark
  • 69.3 mean sum score

Onalaska

  • 95 percent met benchmark
  • 65.7 mean sum score

West Salem

  • 95 percent met benchmark
  • 71.3 mean sum score

Bangor School District

  • 90 percent met benchmark
  • 52.5 mean sum score
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(6) comments

WI1234

When did start assessing kids for reading prior to K? Am I missing something? Are the parents now teaching reading skills to children before they hit school? What is going on? I thought that kids learned how to read in school, did something happen? I would like to know, I have grand children that will be attending school soon. How does one become phonological ready, who teaches the sounds to the kids? If someone struggles on this, does the school teach the sounds then or are the parents suppose to teach the sounds to the letters? I would think that if a child has not been taught the sounds they may not be ready for reading, so the sounds then are taught at school, or is up to the parents now to teach this? I sure would like to know, because to me this seems to put the responsibility onto the parent..Thank you for any help...

WI1234

When did we start assessing....So if there are still kids struggling, are they going to get the help necessary so they are not left behind? From the school? or do the parents or grandparents suppose to do this? So basically they have to pass a test before entering K? So if parents are left to take on the responsibility at home, who is giving them what is expected, what they need to know, and how to teach basic reading skills. NOT memorize words either? So is this article to inform us parents, that we actually have to teach reading to our kids? I have never have heard such a thing in my life.

WI1234

Why are they being assessed like this, isn't it the responsibility of the school to teach reading skills? How does one come ready to read in reading? Why would a child need to meet a benchmark prior to K? Did fliers go out to parents about them teaching their kids to read?

WI1234

Is it not the responsibility of the school to teach reading skills? I am really confused about this. I have never heard of kids being ready for reading.

CelticMan

Yep, let's get those tests going! Why wait until kindergarten? We should be testing 3-year old kids to see if they are in the "pre-readiness" stage. In fact, we could probably test in-utero.

Also, if my kid were going to a district in which only 81% of the kindergarten kids were "at level", I would scream like heck! Those darn, lazy, thug teachers need to work harder.

OK, I am done channeling my inner Craig. We need to stop all the test-compare-publish-(punish) nonsense. Some kids are more ready at age 5-6 to read, for a million reasons. Some adults are better readers than others. Some adults are taller, too, or more athletic, or better at music, or kinder to strangers.

Read the Diane Ravitch blog, or buy one of her books. She is a voice of reason.

CJ

These studies hit a nerve with the teacher types huh Celtic? It's not the schools fault, heck most adults can't even balance a checkbook let alone read at a decent level so you get a pass this time.

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