LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state Education Commissioner Johnny Key announced Thursday a state initiative aimed at improving the readings skills of Arkansas third-graders.


Speaking at a news conference at the state Capitol with students from Martin Luther King Elementary School in Little Rock seated on the floor around his lectern, Hutchinson said the effort, Reading Initiative for Student Excellence Arkansas, or RISE Arkansas, will seek to build a culture of reading.


“It’s the foundation for education,” Hutchinson said. “Everything else hinges upon the ability to read proficiently and success in reading. And it brings joy in life as well.”


Key said the state Department of Education will not need any new funding for the initiative. Instead, the department will readjust its priorities for using personnel and resources and will work with community stakeholders to put the plan into practice, he said.


Key said the initiative will include the RISE Arkansas Academy, which will provide kindergarten through second-grade teachers with professional development focused on teaching reading; a new page devoted to RISE Arkansas on the department’s website at arkansased.gov; a second annual conference on reading for educators in Hot Springs in March; and reading campaigns in school districts across the state.


“If we don’t get anything else right in education, we have to get reading right,” Key said.


Statistics the department provided Thursday included:


• Arkansas students’ 2015 scores on standardized tests showed 48.6 percent in grades three through 10 were proficient in English language arts.


• Thirty-nine percent of Arkansas’ graduating seniors met reading readiness benchmarks on the ACT in 2015.


• Arkansas ranks in the bottom third of states in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.


Goals of the RISE Arkansas campaign include increasing the number of students in grades three through eight who meet the ACT Aspire reading readiness benchmark by 10 percent within three years; rising above the bottom third in state comparisons within five years on the fourth-grade NAEP reading test; and increasing the number of graduates meeting the ACT reading readiness benchmark by 10 percent within five years.