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In Wyoming, 31 percent of 8th graders are proficient in math. They're faring better than most

Graphic shows the 2024 KIDS COUNT Data Book shows Wyoming ranked 18th overall for child well-being, 11th for economic well-being, 14th for educational well-being, 41st for health, and 13th for family and community metrics.
Annie E. Casey Foundation
The 2024 KIDS COUNT Data Book shows Wyoming ranked 18th overall for child well-being, 11th for economic well-being, 14th for educational well-being, 41st for health, and 13th for family and community metrics.

Most schoolchildren in the United States are struggling with reading and math. While children in Wyoming are faring better than most, they are also struggling. That’s according to a new report measuring how well children are doing in every state.

The annual KIDS COUNT report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation tracks a number of metrics aimed at assessing the overall well-being of children across the nation.

This year's report highlights "an early warning that our country's future workforce could lack the skills needed to sustain a healthy economy."

"Learning is part of the full human experience we all want children to enjoy as their lives progress," the report's introduction states. "It is intrinsically important to human development. It also is vital so that young adults can graduate from high school, secure decent jobs and contribute to their community and the economy."

Reading and Math

The report breaks down findings by state and finds that in Wyoming, only 38 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading and that only 31 percent of eighth graders are proficient in math.

Micah Richardson, associate director of policy for the Wyoming Women's Foundation, said these proficiency metrics have been bad for decades but they got worse during the pandemic.

"That has been a trend, an ongoing trend, for quite a number of years — but then it was just exacerbated during COVID," she said. "I think people are now looking at it more closely because these numbers now are pretty startling."

The report itself notes that these figures do not mean certain schools or teachers are failing children. Rather, underlying issues, such as lack of education funding, persistent poverty and unaddressed trauma, and other mental health issues are affecting students' ability to learn.

"The percentages of children who live in poverty or in high-poverty neighborhoods; single-parent households; and households whose heads lack a high school diploma each predict worse outcomes that negatively affect well-being beyond test scores, including higher dropout rates," the report notes. "These and other root causes and contributing factors have kept U.S. students from higher achievement for decades."

Richardson added that reading and math scores aren’t everything.

"This is, you know, one moment in time, one data point," she said. "There are lots of other things that students are learning and gaining and becoming more adept at, but it is still concerning to see these numbers."

Wyoming children are actually doing better than most when it comes to these proficiency metrics. Across the nation, only 32 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading and only 26 percent of eighth graders are proficient in math.

Well-being

The KIDS COUNT report also tracks how many young children, ages 3 and 4, are not in school and how many high school students graduate on time. On these other metrics, Wyoming does worse than the nation. And taking all of these metrics into consideration, the Equality State is ranked 14th in the country for the educational well-being of its children.

The report, published June 10, calls on states to take advantage of specific federal funds already available to them and to invest in mental health and tutoring, among other recommended actions.

Economics

Wyoming's strongest score is in economic well-being, where it's ranked 11th in the nation. That doesn't mean everything is perfect. In fact, it doesn't even mean that Wyoming metrics are headed in the right direction. Most are not. The number of children living in poverty, the number of children with unemployed parents, and the number of children living in households with a high housing cost burden are all on the rise. They're just not as bad in Wyoming as they are in the rest of the nation.

Health

The annual report ranks Wyoming 18th in the nation for overall child well-being — but 41st when it comes to children's health.

About 8 percent of Wyoming children lack health insurance. That's an improvement over 2019, when 11 percent were uninsured, but it's still worse than the national average. Across the U.S. only about 5 percent of children are uninsured.

Richardson said Wyoming lags behind for a number of reasons.

"We are such a rural frontier area that access to healthcare is just difficult regardless," she said. "But not having adopted Medicaid expansion also exacerbates that problem. I don't know if Medicaid expansion is necessarily the silver bullet, but it would certainly go a long way to supporting those families in their health care coverage."

Wyoming is one of just 10 states that have not expanded Medicaid, and research shows that decision has likely had negative consequences for the health and coverage of Wyoming residents. The state did, however, pass a "Medicaid for Moms" bill last year. That will likely increase the number of children covered by health insurance going forward.

Other health metrics, such as the percentage of babies born with a low birth-weight and per capita child and teen deaths, appear worse in Wyoming than the rest of the country. But how much worse varies dramatically year-to-year given Wyoming's small population.

Wyoming's health ranking is an improvement from recent years. In 2023, it was ranked 46th. In 2019, it was ranked 49th.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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