New report shows black students are falling behind white peers

When black students enter kindergarten in Kentucky, they’re already at a disadvantage and less prepared than their white peers.

However, a new report from the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence goes further, showing that the achievement gap between both student groups dramatically widens by the third grade.

For Brigitte Blom Ramsey, the education reform group’s executive director, it’s a concerning trend that should get every school community asking tough questions.

“Are we really responding to our learners, our young learners, in a way that resonates with them?” she asked. “We do hope this report will be a starting point for a conversation, particularly at the local level, where we have the best opportunity to serve students differently.”

Each year, when Kentucky students start kindergarten, they’re screened for the basic cognitive, physical and social-emotional skills they’ll need to succeed.

In practice, it means asking a 5-year-old to draw shapes, name their letters without singing them or stand on one foot for as long as they can. The screening isn’t a requirement to start school, however.

The report said most kindergarten students screened during the 2013-14 school year went on to achieve higher third-grade reading and math proficiency rates on state tests during the 2016-17 year.

However, African-American students actually slipped backward in both subjects compared to their kindergarten readiness rate.

That’s despite entering kindergarten in the 2013-14 school year at a level of readiness not far behind their white classmates.

The report said 44.2 percent of black students were deemed ready to start school that year. White, non-Hispanic students were screened at 51.2 percent ready.

But in the first few years of school, the gap in proficiency expands.

During the 2016-17 school year, 32.8 percent of black students were proficient in third-grade reading. By comparison, 60.2 percent of white students tested proficient in third-grade reading.

A similar gap exists for third-grade math proficiency, where 30.3 percent of black students tested proficient that year compared to 54.6 percent of white students.

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