LITTLE ROCK — Despite progress in education in Arkansas, achievement gaps remain, according to a report released Thursday.

LITTLE ROCK — Despite progress in education in Arkansas, achievement gaps remain, according to a report released Thursday.


"While the state has made slight progress on closing the achievement gap to date, we are at a turning point," said Jerri Derlikowski, education policy director at Arkansas Advocates, which released the report, "Education in the Post Lake View Era."


The report can be viewed at www.aradvocates.org.


"We have made the easy gains. We won’t continue to improve education outcomes for all students without bold new thinking and a commitment to our students. Programs and resources must be targeted to the students struggling the most academically," Derlikowski said.


According to the report, test scores have improved significantly between 2003 and 2013, the percentage of students taking the ACT has increased, high school graduation rates are up, teacher salaries are up and college remediation rates have decreased slightly.


But the achievement gap between white and minority students persists. On benchmark exams for third grade reading, 84.5 percent of white readers tested proficient or advanced compared to only 67.6 percent of black readers.


On the eighth grade 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress literacy exams, 37 percent of white students are proficient or advanced compared to 12 percent of black students. The gap for math is just as wide.


Derlikowski said strategies to reduce the achievement gap have not been sustained. Pre-K funding has not been increased since 2008, and state poverty funding is being used for school-wide benefit in too many cases when it should be used to focus on students who need additional attention, she said.


"There are some other things going on, too," she said. "Property wealth can separate school districts into haves and have-nots. And family poverty is a very serious barrier to academic achievement for low-income students."


The report offers the following recommendations:


—Increase funding for the existing Arkansas Better Chance Program to insure that quality programs continue.


—Provide funding for after-school and summer programs.


—Expand access to school-based health programs.


—Commit to broadband equity so all students have access to high-speed, reliable internet.