Overall performance on state exams, as well as racial and ethnic disparities, are educational concerns in Arkansas, while high school graduation rates and adult education levels have been improving.

The foundation for a child's education is built early in life with nurturing and enriching interactions with parents and other caregivers. One measure of this is the availability of quality early child care and preschool. While Arkansas has the capacity to serve 61% of preschoolers in quality, public programs, there are only enough quality child care seats to serve 10% of infants and toddlers.  

Once children enter school, performance on exams is a measure of learning. Passing rates on key state exams are rising, with 38% of 3rd graders proficient in reading and 48% of 8th graders proficient in math. Still, this means less than half of students are meeting the state’s new expectations, set in 2018 with the adoption of the ACT Aspire exams.

Females outperformed males on both measures, besting boys by 5 points in reading and 4 points in math. Economically disadvantaged students and racial minorities had the lowest passing rates.

High school graduation rates have risen 11 percentage points since 2010, with 88% of the Class of 2019 graduating on time. Performance was also more even across groups, with all groups posting graduation rates of at least 80% and the most growth among economically disadvantaged (+15 points), Asian (+17), African American (+14 points) and Hispanic (+15 points) students.

However, entering college students show signs of not being fully prepared. In 2017, 31% of first-year students needed a remedial course, and a far larger share (61%), of black students were required to undergo remediation.

Adult education levels are rising, with 87% of Arkansans 25 and older holding at least a high school degree, up 12 percentage points from 2000, and 23% possessing a bachelor’s or higher degree, up 6 points. However, Arkansas lags the nation on these measures: 44th for high school diploma and 49th for bachelor’s. While the share of adults having a least a high school diploma were similar across racial and ethnic groups, there were disparities in those with at least a bachelor’s, 49% for Asian adults compared to 24% of white and 25% of Hispanic and 16% of African American adults.

For those adults without a post-secondary degree, some continue to work toward one. In 2018, 4.4% of Arkansas' working-age adults were enrolled in further education, down from 6.2% in 2011 (a decrease of roughly 27,700 adults in terms of enrollment). The decrease is likely due to improving conditions in the job market.

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