The Arizona Department of Education must provide targeted help to tens of thousands of English Language Learner students who were passed out of ELL programs before they were ready, the U.S. Justice Department said Friday.

The requirement is part of a settlement between Arizona authorities and the federal departments of Justice and Education.

"Proper classification of ELL students is essential to ensuring that students receive the services they need to help them overcome language barriers and participate equally in the instructional process," U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said in a statement.

A federal investigation determined that tens of thousands of Arizona ELL students were either prematurely shifted out of those programs or wrongly classified as fluent in English.

Arizona stood to lose federal education funds if it did not settle the case.

The state has faced a number of lawsuits over the methods used in its ELL programs. EFE