Literacy programs could narrow achievement gap

Report ranks Wisconsin low for helping diverse students succeed

A new data-based report said Wisconsin is doing a bad job when it comes to the success of racially-diverse students in the classroom, but some local educators said a little extra help early on for students can help to close the achievement gap.

The report “Race for Results” was published Tuesday and specifically puts Wisconsin at the bottom of rankings when it compares the success rate of African-American children to other ethnic groups. Wisconsin’s score of 238 is well below the national average of 345.

The achievement gap is not a new topic; however, a local literacy educator looks at early childhood education as a way of narrowing that gap.

“Opportunities are not equal, education, resources are not equal,” said Valjean Adams, a literacy educator at Clara Fields Multicultural Literacy Program in La Crosse. “What we do here is service children 3 1/2 to 5 years old with the goal being to teach them literacy skills so that they are able to read upon entering kindergarten.”

She teaches kids of all different ethnicities.

“We have children here that come from very poor backgrounds that I have to feed breakfast to in the morning. We have people that come here are fluent, their parents are doctors,” said Adams.

However, Adams said she often notices that children, specifically minority populations, are not getting a fair chance to succeed.

“This child over here may not own a book or get to read one or hear one read until he gets here,” said Adams.

It’s something Onalaska’s Administrator Roger Fruit also sees.

“Not all students come to school with the same level of background experiences that help them get ready for school,” said Fruit.

That’s why both believe in early literacy programs as a way to close the achievement gap.

“Pre-K programming is one huge piece to help kids get that first school experience to help them know how school works and how learning works and how we can support them,” said Fruit.

“We are kind of the new kids on the block. We’re trying to present a new idea and say this should be the norm and not the exception,” said Adams.

It’s just going to take a little extra work in the beginning, not just from the students, but the teachers and school districts as well.

“What can our community do or our school districts do to help early literacy efforts in the home because students will be behind if they don’t have some of those opportunities at home prior to coming to school,” said Fruit.

Some critics said early literacy programs that start in pre-K are too stressful for kids at such a young age.     

If you would like to look at a breakdown of ethnic populations and their success rates in school districts, here is a link to the Department of Public Instruction where you can review the report card of any school in the state.