PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Elementary and middle school students’ standardized test scores improved slightly this year, even as they continue to lag those seen prior to the coronavirus pandemic, according to data released Wednesday.
The Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System test scores showed nearly 30% of third through eighth grade public-school students met or exceeded expectations in math last spring, representing a 2.7 percentage point increase from a year earlier.
For the English language arts portion of the test, state officials reported 33.1% of the students met or exceeded expectations, which is a measure also known as being “proficient.” The ELA scores represent a 2 percentage point increase compared to last year.
Rhode Island leaders lauded the slight gains on both parts of the test, which serves as an influential indicator for educators, students and policymakers.
The state officials noted that the 2023 increases outpaced those reported this year in Massachusetts, which administers a similar test known as the MCAS. However, Rhode Island students still lagged their Massachusetts peers in both math and ELA.
Rhode Island students are also still testing below the 29.8% math scores and 38.5% ELA scores reported in 2019. Those numbers came out just months before the first reported cases of COVID-19 in the United States, which disrupted classroom learning for more than a year.
WATCH: Full interview with Angélica Infante-Green (Story continues below.)
R.I. Department of Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green acknowledged the scores this year are not where the state ultimately wants to be, saying the eventual goal is to far exceed pre-pandemic levels.
“This will not happen overnight,” Infante-Green told reporters during a briefing. “Our latest RICAS statewide show that we have solid momentum.”
Infante-Green said many school districts have returned to or exceeded pre-pandemic testing levels, but others are still trying to catch up.
“Let me just be clear that we know that there’s a lot of work to do,” she added.
In addition to the RICAS data, the Department of Education this year provided data about students who are chronically absent, meaning they missed at least 18 days of school.
The data shows performance gaps between students who are chronically absent compared to their peers who are not.
Only about 19% of chronically absent students were meeting or exceeding expectations on English language arts, far below the 37% proficiency rate among their peers who are not chronically absent.
The data was similar in math, with about 14% of chronically absent students proficient compared with 34% of those not chronically absent.
A 2022 analysis from the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment indicated that three to five years of accelerated learning strategies would be needed to recover to pre-pandemic levels.
“The more we have kids in the classroom, we can change that,” Infante-Green said. “That is the projection if we keep going along with things unchanged.”
“What we’re trying to do is break whatever that pattern is, and really focus in on the students,” she added. “I hope that none of our students feel doomed because unfortunately, it is something that has impacted everyone, but we want them to keep moving forward.”
Education officials said they will once again offer “personalized individual student” reports “that include individualized, multilingual informational videos” to help families better understand their students’ RICAS scores. The videos are available in ten languages.
2023 PSAT and SAT results
Students in 10th and 11th grade take the PSAT and SAT, respectively.
Statewide PSAT results show proficiency decreased in ELA by almost 4% compared with 2022, and by 2% in math.
RIDE also said half of Rhode Island students who took the PSAT met expectations for high school ELA results, and just over 25% met expectations in math.
SAT results showed a roughly 2% increase in students who met or exceeded expectations
in ELA, but no change for math.
Overall, almost half of students who took the SAT met expectations for high school ELA, but only just over 25% meet expectations in math.