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Fifty-nine percent.

That's the percentage of Arkansas students, grades three through 10, who did not meet the readiness benchmark for reading on the 2016-17 ACT Aspire.

The good news? It was 61 percent in 2015-16.

The bad news? At the current growth rate, it will take just over 20 years to ensure all Arkansas students are ready in reading.

In Arkansas' school districts, reading readiness ranged from 65 percent at Valley View to 9 percent at Dollarway.

There is hope. Thanks to the advocacy of educators like Audie Alumbaugh, Kim Head, and Melissa Hannah, supported by dyslexia warriors and thousands of literacy-focused parents and educators, Arkansas' education leaders are embracing and advancing a culture of reading.

With the passage of Act 416, sponsored by state Sen. Alan Clark in the 91st General Assembly, any person applying for an elementary education K-6 teaching license or a special education K-12 teaching license must now successfully pass a stand-alone reading test and multi-subject test as a condition of licensure.

In short, new teachers must know how to teach the Science of Reading.

Additionally, under the leadership of Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Commissioner Johnny Key, the Arkansas Department of Education launched R.I.S.E. (Reading Initiative for Student Excellence) Arkansas. According to the department's website, the initiative "encourages a culture of reading by coordinating a statewide reading campaign with community partners, parents and teachers to establish the importance of reading in homes, schools, and communities." Also, aggressive professional development is being implemented to empower teachers in the Science of Reading.

Here are the two over-simplified methods of reading instruction:

• Whole Language: a method of teaching children to read at an early age that allows students to select their own reading matter and that emphasizes the use and recognition of words in everyday contexts.

In other words, if you've never seen the word, you have no tools to decode it.

• Science of Reading (Phonics): a method of teaching people to read by correlating sounds with letters or groups of letters in an alphabetic writing system.

In other words, even if you've never seen the word, you have the tools to decode it.

The light bulb for those of us who learned to read in pre-1980s Arkansas was realizing that how we learned to read (i.e., phonics) was no longer being taught. Most egregiously, teachers have long emerged from our college, university and nontraditional teacher preparation programs trained in Whole Language instead of Science of Reading/Phonics.

Subsequently, most of our children and grandchildren were being taught in a way with which we are unfamiliar, and therefore we have not been able to help reinforce how they were being instructed in school.

As a result, K-12 has created an entrenched, publicly funded infrastructure around reading remediation.

Instead of continually kicking the reading can down the road, what if we dedicated the necessary resources to teach it right the first time? What if we made an Arkansas Guarantee?

Every student not precluded by intellectual disability will read at grade level.


It really is this simple: If a child does not learn to read, he/she will not be able to read to learn.

The state of Arkansas currently invests approximately $87,100 for each student's K-12 journey. Throw in local and federal sources, and the number is easily $140,000 per student. If our public districts and charters are not guaranteeing the basic building block of education, why do they even exist?

When the Arkansas high school graduation rate is 87 percent, but 59 percent of students are not reading-ready, we are not graduating students ready for K-12, much less college, career or community.

Not reading at grade level is an individual, family, community and state economic development emergency, and it should be addressed with the utmost urgency.


Randy Zook is CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas. He may be reached at and followed @ARStateChamber. Gary Newton is CEO of Arkansas Learns. He may be reached at and followed @ArkansasLearns.

Editorial on 04/16/2018

Print Headline: State emergency

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  • Foghorn
    April 16, 2018 at 9:54 a.m.

    Couldn’t agree more. But what is the plan/path to create this proposed ‘Arkansas Guarantee?’ How is it kids who can’t read are still advanced grade to grade? Wouldn’t/shouldn’t teachers need to be held responsible, questioned and dismissed if students who can’t read continue to be advanced? I don’t see how this can happen without teacher accountability policies with TEETH, all of which are anathema to teachers unions.