Starting this year, Arizona's third-graders will need to show that they can read at grade level or they will not be promoted to fourth grade. According to Jonathan Reid of the Cronkite News Service, early estimates from the state's Department of Education place the number of kids who will be affected by the new requirements at ~1,500.
Pearl Chan Esau, President of Expect More Arizona, thinks an additional 17,000 third-graders are at risk for being held back. The state is focusing on third grade because this is the last year that students in Arizona spend learning how to read. Chan Esau explains that it's a critical academic milestone: If children are proficient in reading at that time, their chances of success in their later education careers go up substantially.
Third grade is the last year when children are "learning how to read," said Cindy Daniels, director of K-3 Reading/Move On When Reading for the Arizona State Board of Education. In fourth grade, she said, the curriculum "flips and you're reading to learn."
Arizona is one of 15 states and the District of Columbia that has passed reading-retention measures for third graders, according to the Education Commission of the States.
The new law requires that any third-grader whose reading score "falls far below the third-grade level" on Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) test be held back for one year.
The law requires that schools provide additional reading help to students who are left back in order to get them to proficiency. Schools can choose to provide either additional hours of tutoring or enroll children in summer or online courses.
More than 84,000 Arizona students are entering third grade this year, and the law will apply to most of them. Special education students, as well as some who are considered English language learners, will be exempt.
Schools will be using state achievement tests to figure out which students need to be left back and who are at the risk of being so. More than $40 million in state funding has been allocated in the last two years to get schools up to speed on the new requirement.
Daniels said school officials have been "ecstatic" about the funding, which has been used on a variety of resources, from hiring reading coaches to buying more books.
Each district must submit an annual literacy plan to the state board to get the funding.
Chang Esau called the funding an "important start," but pointed to the 1,500 third graders who are still expected to be held back this year.
"That's just far too many," she said.
Chang Esau hopes that the state will continue funding for third-grade reading in the future or, better yet, increase the amount.