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
- 94 percent met benchmark
- 69.3 mean sum score
- 95 percent met benchmark
- 65.7 mean sum score
- 95 percent met benchmark
- 71.3 mean sum score
Bangor School District
- 90 percent met benchmark
- 52.5 mean sum score