Aspire Arkansas study reveals problems in literacy and math for students

Jun 8, 2018

A recent study suggests that access to Pre-K for young Arkansans is among the top in the nation.  But, the state still has a long way to go when it comes to their development further along in their education.

The non-profit organization Arkansas Community Foundation has produced the third iteration of the Aspire Arkansas report.  The study is what Chief Program Officer of the Arkansas Communication Officer Sarah Kinser calls a community indicators report.

Kinser said the study, which was first published in 2011, analyzes the quality of life for Arkansans based off of various key indicators in health, education, family, and civic engagement.  She said this is the first time the foundation has made their report available online.

"Our goal is to pull together a bunch of different measures of the quality of life in Arkansas," Kinser said, "using data down to the county level where we can find it to give people sort of a 30,000 ft. view of the overall well-being of their community."

The online report contains data collected from 2016.  A key indicator that Kinser said stood out to her dealt with math and literacy among young Arkansans.  According to the study, 37% of 3rd graders were considered proficient or advanced in reading.  Kinser said that 3rd graders who are still learning to read by this time will have a challenge when it comes to learning and comprehension when they read.

The study also found that 44% of 8th graders were proficient or advanced in math.  According to the study, math proficiency by the time a child reaches this grade can predict whether he or she will graduate from high school. 

Kinser says the data suggests multiple factors are at play, such as chronic school absenteeism. 

“When kids are absent from school in an early grade," Kinser said,  "they miss critical lessons that are helping them to build their reading skills."

Another possible factor Kinser said was kindergarten readiness. 

"There is so much brain development that takes place before a child ever sets foot in a school," said Kinser.  "We know that not every kid has books in their home, has lots of engagement, has the health care screenings they need to address any issues that may be going on in early childhood."

Data from the National Institute for Early Education Research shows Arkansas ranks 5th nation-wide for 3-year-olds enrolled in Pre-K.  Arkansas is also 18th in the nation for enrolled 4-year-olds.  Kinser says that while increased funding for Pre-K has helped, the state still has room to improve.

The report also broke down the math and literacy proficiency by race.  

According to the study, in 3rd-grade literacy, 42% of white students were proficient, while only 22% of African Americans met the benchmark.  Also, in 8th-grade math 65% of whites were proficient, but only 40% of African Americans had passing scores.

Racial disparities also appeared after high school graduation. While Arkansas' graduation rates across the board were pretty high (87%), 73% of African Americans, 47% of Hispanics, and 34% of white students required college remediation courses.

Read the full Aspire Arkansas report online here.

Kinser said that the state's "complicated" history in race relations is apparent in the data.

“That’s an area that we felt like it was important to look at," said Kinser. "Not just [Arkansas'] overall math, and literacy, and graduation rate scores, but also to take a look at how all of that breaks down by race and ethnicity and socioeconomic background and gender, because there are some gaps there that all Arkansans need to take a look at.”

Kinser said that it is up to the community working together with schools to improve the statistics, and not to leave it up to the schools themselves.

Disclosure: The Arkansas Community Foundation has been an underwriter of programming on KASU  Public Radio.