Nearly seven out of 10 Arkansas fourth-graders do not read at a proficient level, according to a new study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

According to "Early Reading Proficiency in the United States," 68 percent of Arkansas fourth-grade students do not read proficiently. That number is down from 72 percent in 2003. The Arkansas number is higher than the national average of 66 percent. Reading proficiently by the fourth grade is a key predictor of a student’s future educational and economic success.

There is an achievement gap between students from families with higher incomes and those with lower incomes. While just over half (54 percent) of higher-income fourrth-graders cannot read proficiently, almost four in five (78 percent) low-income fourth-graders cannot. The gap between the two groups has increased from 19 percent in 2003 to 24 percent in 2013.

"Research shows that a student’s ability to read at grade-level by the end of third grade is one of the most important predictors of school success and high school graduation," says Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

AACF is part of the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The campaign’s goal is that by 2020, all Arkansas children will read at grade level by the end of third grade.