Learning disparities based on race show up in kindergarten and persist, according to assessment data released Thursday by Oregon education officials.
Four years ago, kindergarteners began taking tests called the "Oregon Kindergarten Assessment."
Five-year-olds take up to four academic assessments: recognizing lowercase and uppercase letters, identifying letter sounds, and early math. Teachers also evaluate kids' "self-regulation" or social preparedness for school.
The first cohort of kindergarteners to take the tests was in third grade last year, where they started taking standardized state tests in English language arts (ELA) and math, which they'll continue taking into high school. A new state analysis has found the children who knew their letters and numbers back in kindergarten were far more likely to excel at reading and math in third grade.
Students who entered kindergarten able to identify the state-average of 18 letters had less than a 50 percent chance of passing the ELA test in third grade. If they could identify 30 upper- and lowercase letters on the timed test, they were more than 60 percent likely to pass the ELA test.
There's a similar pattern for the test of early math skills and its correlation to the third grade math exam. Students who enter kindergarten at the state average, scoring an 8.5 on the early math test, had a 44 percent likelihood of passing the third grade math exam. If they scored a 12, they had a 70 percent chance of passing the third grade math test.
Scores on the kindergarten assessment have been relatively stable over the last few years, with the exception of a recent rise in the early math scores, which officials attribute to a change in test questions.
Results tend to be weaker in lower income communities, like east Multnomah County. Average kindergarten scores for children entering the Reynolds and Centennial school districts were behind on all four early literacy and math assessments.
Average results are stronger in wealthier suburbs or small cities, such as Corvallis and West Linn-Wilsonville schools, where kindergartners started above the state average in the four early academic areas.
Brett Walker, with Oregon’s Early Learning Division, said the results vary a great deal from one school community to another.
“A lot of this is about who has access to what, and the reality is that is unfortunately still very predictable, based on where children and families live,” Walker said.
But the data also show significant gaps between children of different races who enroll at the same schools. For instance, at Beach Elementary in North Portland, white students enter kindergarten above the state average in each of the four early academic benchmarks. Black students enter above the state average in three out of four, but Latino students start out below average in all four.
In some schools, there are gaps based on ethnicity at the same time that all groups entering kindergarten are below state averages. At Gilbert Park Elementary in the David Douglas district, white kindergartners were below average in all four academic areas, but not to the same extent as incoming Latino students. Black students were closest to the state average, when it came to tests of recognizing letters.
Education advocates and state leaders have been pushing for larger investments in preschool programs.
An analysis by Portland State University shared with OPB by state officials shows a recent effort called "P3" showed improvements to kindergarten readiness, though they were "small in magnitude."