Kindergarten Readiness in Wisconsin

WCER Working Paper No. 2017-3

Eric Grodsky, Yiyue Huangfu, H. Rose Miesner, and Chiara Packard

September 2017, 21 pp.

ABSTRACT: Wisconsin’s gaps between Black and White student high school graduation rates and Black and White fourth-grade math and reading scores are the largest in the nation. These inequalities have led to criticisms of Wisconsin’s schools and teachers as ineffective in bolstering the success of students of color and those who are economically disadvantaged.

However, serious attention to disparities in school readiness has largely been absent from these conversations. We know that nationally, students of color and children who are poor enter Kindergarten substantially behind their peers and that disparity can account for much, if not most, of the achievement gap we see later in primary and secondary school.

This report describes differences in school readiness as reflected by literacy skills at Kindergarten entry among children in Wisconsin. We document inequalities in literacy skills by race/ethnicity, family income and place. Our results show that teachers and schools in Wisconsin face a daunting challenge in producing equitable educational outcomes for our children.

Among the key finding are:

  • Almost 66 percent of African American children and 70 percent of Latino children enter Kindergarten less prepared than the typical White child. On average, African American children score 12 points lower and Latino children 15 points behind White children.
  • Almost 75 percent of poor children enter Kindergarten behind the typical, more economically advantaged child.
  • Differences in the economic resources of families of White children and children of color account for much, but not all of the racial/ethnic differences in school readiness we observe in Wisconsin. If children of color were as financially well off as White children in the state, we would expect gaps in early literacy skills to shrink by 60 percent for African American children and 40 percent for Latino children.
  • Variation in literacy skills among Kindergarteners attending the same school is much greater than the variation among schools or among districts. Nonetheless, schools and school districts differ in the readiness of their children in meaningful ways. Milwaukee suburbs have some of the highest average levels of schools readiness and some of the lowest levels of inequality. Alternatively, some areas around the Pittsville and Port Edwards school districts have among the lowest average levels of school readiness and highest levels of inequality.

Full Paper

keywords: Wisconsin, Kindergarten, Hispanic, Latino, Latina, Black, White, graduation rates, math, reading, scores, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, literacy, skills, readiness, poverty, wealth, economics