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Parents of Arizona third-graders at risk of being held back because they read far below grade level won’t know until summer whether their child will advance to fourth grade.

The Arizona State Board of Education voted on Monday to exercise a law that requires students who are reading significantly below grade level to be retained. But AzMERIT, the state test that provides schools with that information, won’t be released to districts for weeks after school is out.

Schools will be tasked with notifying affected families once the test scores come in on June 6.

The board had the option of waiving the requirement for another year, eliminating the challenge of contacting families over summer break as well as the possibility of not having enough third-grade teachers available to educate students who are held back.

Tucson’s largest school district, TUSD, serves about 3,900 third-graders and has been working to identify struggling readers through its own district-created benchmark tests.

Those students have been targeted for summer intervention, which will help officials get in contact with families easily as long as they are participating, said Tucson Unified School District spokeswoman Stefanie Boe.

When AzMERIT was first administered last year, 51 percent of TUSD third-graders were identified as minimally proficient — the lowest level possible — on the English-language arts portion of the test. The district’s performance was worse than the state average of 43 percent.

Of Tucson’s nine major school districts, Sunnyside had the highest percentage of third-graders identified as minimally proficient last year at 62 percent. The district serves nearly 1,400 third-graders.

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While the third-grade reading law was in effect last year, it was not put into practice.

That’s because scores were not made available to schools because of delays that were longer than those expected this year.

A student who falls into AzMERIT’s lowest-performing category in language arts this year won’t necessarily be held back. AzMERIT’s English-language arts test assesses reading, writing and language. For the purposes of determining whether a student falls far below standards, the reading scores will be broken out and considered separately.

In the future, the state’s goal is to have test scores out before the end of the school year, said Arizona Department of Education spokesman Charles Tack. But additional time is required this year to complete hand-scoring of tests and other technical requirements.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at or 573-4175. On Twitter: @AlexisHuicochea