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OXFORD, Miss. — Mississippi is one of 16 states with a “pass or fail” third grade reading test, and as the summer begins, the Department of Education is still battling low test scores.

After the first round of testing, almost 9,000 Mississippi third-graders, more than a quarter of the state’s third-graders, failed the reading test. After the next round of retakes, numbers were slightly better, but the state is still working through the summer to improve the scores.

After both rounds of testing, 17.2% of Mississippi third-graders still have not passed the required exam. While the number is troubling for the state, the real victims are the struggling students.

“You hurt for the kids,” said Bradley Roberson, assistant superintendent of the Oxford School District. “You hurt for the families of those kids that are maybe not meeting the level of expectation. But on the flip side of things, it’s there for a good reason.”

The prospective fourth-graders will get one more chance at a retake in a few weeks after summer school ends. Educators say forcing a child to repeat a grade can be heartbreaking, but this isn’t some objective test — it comes during a crucial time for childhood development.

“If they do not have those reading fundamentals by the time they end or get out of third grade, which is about 8 or 9 years old, then it’s difficult for the learning process to continue,” Roberson said.

The Oxford Police Department is doing its part to help the children. They recently started a program called “Reading with the Rookies,” where young students read with new officers. The department says reading is important in the classroom and also as a developing member of the community.

“You’ve got to have those first two books where they’re like, ‘Wow, this is really nice,'” said Alan Ivey, captain of the Oxford Police Department. “And then you get into it. I read all the time still, and it’s not just reading for work. It’s reading for enjoyment, and it’s reading to learn things.”

Roberson said this reading test prepares the students to be responsible citizens of their community.

“It’s all about the students,” Roberson said. “It is in our school district, and I firmly believe that it is across the state of Mississippi as well. You know, we are creating the leaders of our state.”

For context, this is the first year Mississippi schools have tested at a “level three” expectation. In the past, the paw only required a “lowest achievement level score.”

The last day of retakes is July 12.

— By WREG’s Peter Fleischer.