More Minnesota children are ready for kindergarten than ever before, the state Department of Education said Wednesday.
The department released its annual study showing nearly 73 percent of Minnesota children were ready to start kindergarten in fall 2012, up from 60 percent in 2010.
To be prepared for kindergarten, children need to know more than their ABCs and how to count to 10, so the report also measures physical and emotional markers.
"Can you follow directions? Can you stay on task? Can you control your body? Do you have a vocabulary that has a certain number of words?" said Charlene Briner, chief of staff for the state Education Department.
Students who combine that ability with basic reading, writing and math skills are much more likely to be on track academically by third grade, the state's goal, Briner told Minnesota Public Radio News.
The report also cites a narrowing in the readiness gap between white students and students of color and between low-income students and their wealthier counterparts.
But some gaps remain. For example, 78 percent of white children are considered ready for kindergarten, about 4 percentage points higher than black students and 16 points higher than Native American and Hispanic students.
Early childhood advocates say the report seems to show the state's investments in early childhood education are paying off, though say even more should be done.
Students of color and poor students are more likely to be ready for kindergarten when they have access to quality early childhood education and when their mothers have access to prenatal care, said Richard Chase, a senior research manager at the Wilder Foundation.
"We have to start thinking about school readiness way before age 2," he said. "So the kids can actually have the development they need to take advantage of those early learning scholarships when they start preschool."
In the last legislative session, Minnesota lawmakers approved up to $45 million in preschool scholarships for low-income children over the next two years.