PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The COVID-19 pandemic has and continues to disrupt the lives of people around the world, but a new report found that students in Rhode Island were substantially impacted academically.

The 180-page report suggests that it could take Rhode Island students three to five years to recover from the effects of the pandemic.

K-12 students saw numerous disruptions to their education including where they were attending class (remotely or in-person), social distancing protocols, as well as outbreaks leading to schools closing for periods at a time.

“We must do whatever it takes to get students back on track in the wake of the pandemic,” said Rhode Island Council on K-12 Education Chair Patti DiCenso. “Despite the setbacks we and communities across the nation have faced, we will find a way to help our students both catch up and get ahead of where they would be without the effects of COVID-19. It will take a statewide effort, but we are confident that we can do it together.”

States like Rhode Island who administered an assessment in spring 2021 were able to look at how well students retained information using pre-pandemic scores as a baseline.

To do so, the R.I. Department of Education (RIDE), along with the National Center for the Improvement of
Educational Assessment, looked at student performance on both the RICAS exam and the WIDA-ACCESS exam for multilingual learners.

The report found that ELA impacts were moderate to large, while mathematics impacts were large to severe.

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Higher grades were more impacted than lower grades and almost every student was impacted academically by the pandemic, but not every group was impacted equally.

The report revealed Hispanic students showed the greatest impact in mathematics, economically disadvantaged students were slightly more impacted than their peers in mathematics, and female students showed a slightly more impact on ELA scores than male students.

Additionally, impacts varied by district, but overall every district was impacted in one way or another.

According to the report, academic growth will need to be supported for several years in order for student learning to return to pre-pandemic levels. The report noted 2022 standardized testing data will be key in determining whether students have continued to fall further behind.

RIDE says they have already started taking action on addressing the impact the pandemic had on students’ education.

“This report reveals the full scale of the pandemic’s impact on student learning and gives a look at the challenging path ahead of us as a state,” said R.I. Commissioner of Education Angélica Infante-Green. “We must now work to implement methods of accelerated learning, including the findings of the LEAP Task Force and the work of educators whose students improved during the pandemic. Districts across the state have already begun this work, and we look forward to working with parents, educators, and community groups to continue it in the coming years.”

Following the Task Force’s recommendation, RIDE has created the District Support Program to provide funding and additional support to the districts most impacted by the pandemic, the Facility Equity Initiative to update school buildings in at-need districts, and the Let It Out campaign to promote social-emotional health in schools across the state.

Kayla Fish contributed to this report.