August 2, 2019

LITTLE ROCK – Reading helps children avoid the “summer slide,” when lazy days can make them forget what they’ve learned over the previous year.

Researchers say that if they read just eight books over the summer, children are more likely to maintain their academic progress.

About 13,000 Arkansas teachers have trained in the science of reading, as part of a concerted effort to improve literacy. There are almost 34,000 certified teachers in Arkansas and almost 479,000 students.

In recent years, mediocre scores on standardized tests have led elected officials and educators in Arkansas to place greater emphasis on the science of reading.

One of their first steps was to expand and improve literacy training of teachers.

The legislature approved Act 1063 in 2017, and updated it with Act 83 of 2019. The new standards require schools to train teachers in new methods based on science, and by the 2021-2022 school new teachers must have knowledge of the science behind literacy in order to get a teaching license.

The state Education Department’s role in the new literacy effort is its R.I.S.E. Arkansas initiative. That stands for Reading Initiative for Student Excellence. The governor credited R.I.S.E for the training of 13,000 teachers in the science of reading during a recent speech.

He noted that for three consecutive years the high school graduation rate in Arkansas has risen, from 85 to 89 percent.

The new literacy training teaches phonics, which is traditional, but relies on new research that encourages young students to sound out words before checking for visual clues in pictures.

It teaches students to memorize “sight words,” which are very common words like “the” and “where.” This approach is traditional also, but the new science adds a new twist.

Rather than simply memorizing a list of sight words, students are taught to sound them out and “decode” them, as they do with unfamiliar words. Research indicates that young students build their list of sight words more quickly with the new method.

Volunteers who have been trained still can sit down with children and tutor them in literacy. However, they can also help address other factors that lower reading scores, such as regular absenteeism and encouraging more engagement from the student’s family.

R.I.S.E. brings schools and local community leaders together to create a culture of reading. The local leaders could come from businesses, churches or non-profits. Activities include having someone read to the kids, of course, and also include passing out bookmarks and posters, as well as taking kids on a fieldtrip that promotes reading.

March 2, the birthday of Dr. Seuss, is a particularly popular day for reading activities.

Health Insurance Rates

Four companies offering health insurance through the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace (AHIM) proposed average rate increases of about 2 percent in 2020.

The state Insurance Commissioner cited several reasons for the relatively low increases proposed for consumers in the marketplace. One is elimination of a user fee of 1.25 percent.

Earlier this year the legislature enacted reforms in the marketplace to make it more efficient, and the stability in proposed rates is a reflection of those reforms.

More than 271,000 Arkansans purchase health insurance through the four companies in the marketplace.