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Arkansas State University

A Look at Literacy Rates in Arkansas

Educational achievement and high school graduation rates in Arkansas have lagged behind the rest of the United States for years. Many children born in Arkansas fall into risk categories that affect kindergarten readiness and daily academic progress. These risks include poverty, foster care, and homelessness, as well as being born to parents without high school diplomas or with histories of substance abuse. These factors all affect literacy in Arkansas.

Fact and Figures

According to the AR Kids Read organization, “7 in 10 Arkansas fourth graders don’t read proficiently.” Research by both the U. S. Department of Education and the State of Arkansas corroborates this statistic.

The Nation’s Report Card reports that the average reading score for 4th and 8th grade students in Arkansas was lower than the average scores in 33 other states. Thirty-two percent of 4th grade students were proficient in reading; twenty-seven percent of 8th grade students were proficient.

The Department of Education in Arkansas also compiles yearly statistics of literacy rates at every grade level. Out of the 1,057 Arkansas schools included in the 2015 report, only 109 schools reported proficient literacy scores of 50 percent and above. Almost one-third of the schools report average literacy scores lower than 25 percent.

A Response From the State of Arkansas

The statistics show that students in Arkansas are falling behind. However, the state is not sitting still. Two state-wide programs are helping support and increase literacy in Arkansas.

One of Arkansas’ state literacy programs is “The Literacy Intervention Matrix.” It consists of three sequential initiatives: Smart Start for the primary grades, Smart Step for intermediate grades and middle school, and Next Step for high school students. Each component provides age-appropriate instructional materials for the development of phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, oral language and writing.

“Responding to Individual Differences in Education (RIDE) Reading Intervention Bank” is another program available free to all Arkansas educators. It is a multimedia web-based program that provides video teaching examples, reading tactic information and a student-tracking program.

Additional State and Local Support

One key to achieving reading proficiency is student readiness for kindergarten. The State of Arkansas is taking this fact seriously. The state has developed a pre-Kindergarten program that is available to families as a home-based program and includes home visits to assist parents and care-givers. The state also funds the “Reach Out and Read” program which takes advantage of pediatrician-family relationships to encourage reading at home. Free books are available in doctors’ offices throughout the state.

In addition, local reading councils continue to promote the growth of literacy in Arkansas. The Ozark Reading Council provides book talks and free books to the Boys Baptist Ranch. White River Reading Council puts on a children’s reading camp and raises money to improve literacy. Arkadelphia Area and the Arkansas River Valley Reading Council donate books to kindergarten students. These are only a few examples of the state-wide concern for literacy rates in Arkansas.

According to the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, its vision is to provide “leadership, support, and service to schools, districts, and communities so every student graduates prepared for college, career, and community engagement.” There is no question that reading is a foundational element for academic success. Over time, with the concerted efforts of both state and local education systems (as well as local councils, families and communities), literacy rates in Arkansas stand a good chance of improving.

Learn more about A-State’s Online Master of Science in Education in Reading.


Arkansas Literacy Councils

AR Kids Read

Arkansas Literacy Association

Arkansas Department of Education

The Nation’s Report Card: State Performance Compared to the Nation

Arkansas Department of Education: Report Card

Race to the Top — Early Learning Challenge

THV11: Increasing Literacy Rates

The Arkansas Campaign For Grade-Level Reading

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