NORTH SMITHFIELD – Statewide assessment results show that in many cases, North Smithfield students have yet to fully recover from pandemic-related learning loses, with testing scores in several areas still down from 2019 proficiency levels.
Results from the 2022 the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System and SAT scores show that the town’s younger public school learners continue to lose ground in English Language Arts, while at the high school, math proficiency remains well below 2019 levels.
“We were very eager to see these results because of COVID, knowing the impact it had on student achievement, said Asst. Supt. and Director of Curriculum Clare Arnold during a presentation of the testing scores before the School Committee last week. “We knew full well what was happening – that it had an impact.”
On RICAS, 51.8 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 who took the test last spring were deemed proficient in ELA, down nearly 10 percentage points from pre-pandemic levels of 2019. Students actually lost ground in the subject since the first post-COVID tests were administered in 2021, when 54.6 percent showed proficiency in ELA.
The loss was most pronounced at the middle school, where ELA scores dropped 4 percent from 2021.
The district’s younger students have, however, made gains in math, with scores that had dropped 14.2 percentage points in 2021 now showing a modest increase from 2019. Proficiency in math rose to 50.7 percent, up from a low of 36.1 in 2021.
The gains and losses were were roughly on par with statewide trends, which saw a seven point increase in math and a two point loss in English proficiency.
“That’s significantly higher than the state,” said Arnold of the 14.6 percent math gain. “We were thrilled with that.”
At the high school, students taking the SATs, meanwhile, recovered some English language skills, with scores showing 68.6 percent proficiency, up from 63.8 in 2021. Students taking the test three years ago, before the pandemic cancelled the annual assessment in 2020, were 69.2 percent proficient in ELA.
“We are at pre-pandemic levels,” Arnold said.
But in math, recovery at the high school last year was far more modest, with 37.1 percent of students demonstrating proficiency on the SATs, still down nearly 18 percentage points from when lockdowns and quarantine requirements caused an upheaval in education not just locally, but across the country.
“Everyone went down and we kept that trend,” Arnold said. “We went down a little less than other districts, but it’s still a concern.”
Still, Arnold noted, the gains in North Smithfield demonstrate some recovery.
“The interesting thing about last year is that we came into the year really hoping it was going to be a year we could make up all of the gaps from the previous year,” said Arnold, noting that in 2021, students were still required to wear masks, socially distance and follow strict quarantine rules. “We had high absenteeism. The students weren’t always present in class.”
Scores on both tests – and in both subjects – in North Smithfield remain well above the Rhode Island average and scores in neighboring Massachusetts.
And Arnold said the losses students have experienced should not necessarily be viewed as, “regressing,” using a traffic analogy.
“We were still moving forward and students were learning,” Arnold said. “We were moving forward much slower. We just didn’t make the progress we wanted to.”
Now, she said, the district-wide learning is accelerating.
“I think we’re certainly on the right path, but we also certainly have work to do,” Arnold said.