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RI EDUCATION

Rhode Island sees steep decline in math, English RICAS test scores

Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said every school district in the state saw declines in performance on the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System exam compared to the 2018-2019 school year.

01/26/2018 Boston Ma -Angelica Infante-Green (cq) during her Elementary and Secondary Education School Commissioner interview. She is one of the finalist. Jonathan Wiggs /Globe Staff Reporter:Topic.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE – Nearly 80 percent of Rhode Island students in grades three through eight were not proficient in math and only a third were reading at grade level the during pandemic-interrupted 2020-2021 school year, according to standardized test scores released Thursday by the state.

Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said every school district in the state saw declines in performance on the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS) exam compared to the 2018-2019 school year, the last time students took the tests before COVID-19 wreaked havoc on all schools.

Infante-Green said Rhode Island joins most states around the country – including Massachusetts and Connecticut – in seeing proficiency rates fall during the pandemic, but the results were disheartening nonetheless.

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“We knew this was coming,” Infante-Green told reporters on Wednesday.

In math, 20.07 percent of students were considered proficient, down from 29.76 percent two years ago. In English language arts, 33.19 percent of students were proficient, compared to 38.48 percent in the 2018-2019 school year.

Test participation levels also saw steep declines, falling roughly 10 percent on both math and English. Federal law requires at least 95 percent participation in standardized tests, but the state was granted a waiver from the US Department of Education for last school year.

Infante-Green said the math results were particularly concerning, especially for eighth graders, who saw their proficiency rates decline from 24.5 percent during in 2019 to 16.1 percent this time around. Only 7 percent of students from Rhode Island’s urban core school systems — Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket — were proficient in math, down from 14.8 percent two years ago.

“Kids found it incredibly difficult to do math during distance learning,” Infante-Green said.

Modeled after Massachusetts Comprehensive System Assessment, the RICAS is administered each year to students in grades three through eight. Results are used to measure student progress and to meet federal accountability guidelines. High school students take the SAT exam as their annual standardized exam.

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Students posted lower math and English results at every grade level, according to the state.

Percentages of students meeting or exceeding expectations in RICAS math.Rhode Island Department of Education
Percentages of students meeting or exceeding expectations in RICAS English language arts.Rhode Island Department of Education

Infante-Green said there was a wide disparity in results for students who attended school in person versus attending school remotely. In math, 27 percent of who students who were regularly in school met or exceeded expectations on the RICAS, compared to 13 percent for students who were mostly virtual. In English, 39 percent of students who were enrolled in in-person learning were proficient, and 26 percent of virtual students were proficient.

At the high school level, students saw smaller declines in their performance on the math and English sections of the SAT. In math, 26.4 percent of students were considered college and career ready, down from 31.2 percent in 2019. In English, 48.3 percent were proficient, down from 50.5 percent.

So what happens now?

Infante-Green said every school district in the state is in the process of creating a new learning plan that will be submitted to the state — a requirement to receive another round of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund dollars — and she expects those proposals to be in by the end of the year.

She said proposals will vary district to district, and could include everything from extending the school day or hiring more specialists to assist students.

“We really have to look at math,” Infante-Green said.

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Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.