PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Enrollment in Rhode Island public schools decreased by roughly 4,000 students in fall 2020, and student absences increased by almost 50% with some elementary school students falling months behind in math and reading, according to new report released Tuesday.
The Rhode Island Department of Education launched the Learning, Equity & Accelerated Pathways Task Force in February, comprised of 36 parents, state and local leaders, education experts and community members.
The task force spent two months assessing fall 2020 data about Rhode Island’s 140,000 K-12 public school students, as well as enrollment and attendance data during the coronavirus pandemic.
The report notes that K-12 public schools saw enrollment decrease by 3.1%, or about 4,000 students, with early grades seeing the biggest drop.
Pre-K saw a 26% decrease in enrollment, and kindergarten saw a 9% decrease, according to the report.
Student absences in fall 2020 and the first six weeks of the spring semester increased by almost 50% compared to the prior school year, with higher percentages of chronic absenteeism in high-poverty schools.
The number of students who missed at least 10% of the school year also grew from 19% last school year to 26% in the current school year.
Out of 180 school days, chronically absent students miss between 10% and 20% of schooldays, while excessively absent students miss between 20% and 50% and mostly absent students miss more than 50%.
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Math performance was more negatively impacted by the pandemic than reading performance, according to the report.
Students in grades 3 through 5 fell two to three months behind in math and one to two months behind in reading, with smaller impacts for older students. Students of color, differently-abled students, multilingual learners and students eligible for free or reduced price lunch saw the biggest drops.
The report stopped short of recommending that summer school be mandatory for all K-12 students, but did note that any summer learning “should” be in-person, last at least five to six weeks with class sizes of 15 students or fewer, and include a “focus on attendance and engagement.”
Meals, snacks and transportation for summer school should be included, the task force recommended.
The report listed many broad commitments — such as “untether learning from seat time and reimagine what mastery looks like” — but included few specifics for next steps.
The report set as goals for the end of June 2021: establish public-facing metrics for success, launch a statewide summer school campaign and release a racial equity decision-making tool.