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As a native Arkansan and one who has spent 54 years in the business of professional communications, I want to thank Victoria Hwang of Hot Springs for her letter to the editor that appeared in the Monday, Feb. 11, edition of The Sentinel-Record.

Hwang expressed her concerns about the state's low graduation rates and offered several suggestions about how those numbers might be improved. It is always encouraging when individuals who recognize a problem also take the time to address it with positive ideas.

Hwang cited this state's low graduation rates as "most impactful" and in need of "urgent correction." I agree with this letter writer's assessment because one's abilities to convey thoughts, feelings, and cogent and vital information through both oral and written words affect so many aspects of people's lives and livelihoods.

To not be able to connect with others through clearly thought out conversations or documentation can create enormous barriers to understanding. And we all have seen how misunderstandings can lead to personal and socio-economic difficulties.

While many here in Hot Springs and Garland County are aware of the issue of low graduation rates for Arkansas high schools and colleges, I want to share a bit of good news on this subject.

According to the Arkansas Community Foundation's Aspire Arkansas report, published in May 2018, "Arkansans will have the education and training necessary to compete in today's economy."

The report's data shows the following:

• High school graduation rates are increasing. Arkansas ranks 25th in the country with 87 percent of students graduating with their class, an increase of 10 percentage points since 2010. This trend holds true for all racial and ethnic groups.

• Educational attainment is increasing. The share of adults with a high school degree (85 percent) increased by 10 percentage points since 2000, and those with a bachelor's degree (22 percent) increased by 5 percentage points since 2000.

Aspire Arkansas also points out that "the share of entering college students in need of remedial courses has fallen by 11 percentage points over the past decade. However, the remediation rate still stands at a relatively high 42 percent."

Yes, there is much more to do to ensure that the Arkansas high school and college graduation rates continue to increase and I appreciate Victoria Hwang for keeping the challenge front and center. Her call to action reminds us that in the long run, there is a critical link between education and the economic health of the Natural State.

And then there is the related matter of grade-level reading deficiencies that sadly plagues most of our state. Again, the May 2018 Aspire Arkansas report shows that "only 37 percent of third-graders meet the benchmark on the ACT Aspire standardized reading test."

But, once more, there are some encouraging developments in this regard, especially on the homefront. I am aware of those because of my association with the Hot Springs Area Community Foundation, an affiliate of the Arkansas Community Foundation, and be assured that I point this out in deference to full disclosure of my personal perspective.

The Grade-Level Reading Initiative continues to be a major focus of the Arkansas Community Foundation and its affiliates. Other nonprofit organizations and literacy groups throughout the state have likewise seen the need to help bolster student achievement in this area.

Great work is being done in our local and area classrooms by dedicated reading specialists and volunteers who write and carry out grant programs that help guard against learning loss during the summertime when young students are out of school.

Partnerships between school districts and the Hot Springs YMCA have proved most effective in engaging students socially while also improving their reading abilities. The Hot Springs Area Community Foundation continues to award program grants that not only address grade-level reading problems but absenteeism, school dropout rates, early childhood need, and parent involvement.

Even so, individuals, families, educators, community residents and leaders must continue to give our children the means to succeed and become economically self-sufficient.

Reading is a leisure-time activity -- reading comprehension is essential to learning and developing skills that move us forward.

Editorial on 02/13/2019

Print Headline: Letter keeps issues 'front and center'

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