A new working paper from researchers out of the University of Virginia uses data from the state’s kindergarten literacy assessment, the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS), to examine how the subsequent achievement trajectories of kindergarteners who enter school with similar literacy levels differ by race and/or SES. The findings are worrying.
In Virginia, 132 out of 133 public school divisions (i.e., districts) require that students entering kindergarten take the PALS. The researchers compared their scores on that exam to their reading scale score in third grade, based on the state’s Standards of Learning (SOL) assessment. The study analyzed a sample size of 67,164 students who took the SOL in 2016–17. They were separated into quintiles based on how they had scored on the kindergarten PALS assessment. The researchers then linked the scores on both exams, while paying close attention to the race and SES.
Like prior studies, they found that racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps are already apparent by the time students enter kindergarten, and that kindergarten literacy scores predict third grade reading scores. But they also found that White and/or more-advantaged students are more likely than Black, Hispanic, English learners, and economically disadvantaged students from the same kindergarten achievement quintile to be proficient readers in third grade. The White-Black and socioeconomic gaps were especially large. In other words, kindergarten gaps widen as children progress through elementary school.
The authors suggest three potential reasons, none of them surprising: differences among schools in resources and quality teaching; students of different SES and/or race having different experiences within the same building; and out-of-school factors.
Whatever the cause, the study’s obvious implication is that Virginia, which already implements targeted interventions for students who score poorly on the kindergarten assessment, should do more to address these disparities, especially for students within the groups highlighted in this study and the schools that serve them. They should, for example, consider embracing the “science of reading,” as Mississippi and Arizona have done. And early assessments like PALS provide an excellent way to spot student deficiencies that schools can and should correct.
SOURCE: Walter Herring, Daphna Bassok, Anita McGinty, Luke C. Miller, and James H. Wyckoff “Racial and Socioeconomic Disparities in the Relationship Between Children’s Early Literacy Skills and Third-Grade Outcomes: Lessons from a Kindergarten Readiness Assessment,” Annenberg Institute at Brown University (June 2021).