Governor and Legislature Champion Grade-Level Reading
Our goal of all students reading at grade-level continues to be embraced by policymakers. In early 2017, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced R.I.S.E. Arkansas (Reading Initiative for Student Excellence)—an initiative led by the Arkansas Department of Education to build a culture of reading, educate parents about the importance of reading, increase access to books at home, and boost professional development for educators.The goals of the initiative are:
- To increase the number of students in grades three through eight who meet the ACT Aspire reading readiness benchmark by 10 percent within three years;
- To rise above the bottom third in state comparisons within five years on the fourth-grade NAEP reading assessment; and
- To increase the number of graduates meeting the ACT reading readiness benchmark by 10 percent within five years.
During the 2017 legislative session policymakers passed several bills that build on the Governor’s momentum:
- Teacher Early Literacy Proficiency - Act 416. Arkansas teachers applying for a K-6 education license or K-12 special education license will be required to pass a stand-alone reading test to ensure new teachers have proficiency in reading instruction.
- Higher Education Teacher Early Literacy Preparation - Act 1063. This law requires all elementary teachers to teach reading consistent with the best practices of scientific reading instruction; school districts to provide professional development related to such instruction; and schools of education at Arkansas universities and colleges to align instruction for prospective teachers with the state’s new stand-alone reading test.
- Reporting to Parents on Student Reading Levels - Act 940. This law requires all public schools to report to parents their child’s independent reading level in terms of K-8 grades, twice a year. A child’s reading level has previously been shared in the form of test results which are difficult for parents to translate. This will give parents a clear understanding of their child’s reading progress.
- Reporting on Dyslexia – Act 1039. A law passed in 2013 mandating that school districts screen early elementary students exhibiting dyslexia markers and provide appropriate services was amended this session. Districts must now report annually how many students have been identified as having dyslexia, the number receiving dyslexia interventions, and the intervention programs provided.
- K-5 School Discipline Reform - Act 1059. Research shows that expulsions and out-of-school suspensions are ineffective and lead to decreased student achievement. This law bans out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for K-5 students in Arkansas unless a student poses a harm to themselves or others and all other measures have failed.
- New Pre-K and After-school Resources - Arkansas Adequacy Formula. As part of the Arkansas legislature’s refinement to the state’s K-12 school funding formula, $4.3 million in National School Lunch Act (NSLA) resources for high-poverty school districts will be provided annually through competitive grants for high-quality pre-K, quality after-school and summer learning, and tutoring.
- New Funding for High-Quality Pre-K State of Arkansas 2018 Budget. The Arkansas Better Chance pre-K program has not received increased funding since 2009. An estimated $20 million in additional funding is needed to sustain the quality of its existing pre-K programs, which serve three and four year old children. Arkansas policymakers made a first step toward closing this funding gap, increasing state funding by $3 million to $114 million per year.