Statewide RICAS performance drops from 2019 to 2021; leaders cite COVID disruptions to learning

PROVIDENCE – Results of the 2021 Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System standardized tests released Thursday by the R.I. Department of Education show that the statewide overall proficiency rate dropped from 2019.

Both state elected officials and education leaders cited learning disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is the reason why test scores decreased.

The RICAS, RIDE said, was taken by 55,005 students in grades 3 through 8 across Rhode Island between March and May, and it was the first time the test was administered since 2019. The pandemic forced the state to cancel the annual RICAS exam in 2020.

According to RIDE, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations in the English Language Arts decreased by 5 percentage points from 38.4% in 2019 to 33.2%. The drop in math scores was greater, with only 20.1% meeting or exceeding expectations in math on the RICAS, a nearly a 10 percentage-point decrease from 2019.

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RIDE also said student participation in the RICAS exams declined by 10% compared to 2019, with the most severe declines occurring among students who were either homeless or economically disadvantaged.

RIDE also said that the RICAS results showed that students who attended school in person showed higher proficiency in math (26%) and ELA (39%) than students who were learning remotely (13% in math; 26% in ELA).

“Rhode Island needs to stay the course on education. These results provide us with data on the needs of our students and we need to implement a bold plan of action to move our state education system forward,” R.I. Board of Education Chair Barbara Cottam said.

R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said that RIDE, along with its Learning, Equity & Accelerated Pathways Task Force, or LEAP, has spent the last year planning ways to address the effects of this disruption to student learning.

“This is a moment for all Rhode Islanders to come together and work for a better future,” House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi said in a statement. “We needed to gauge how our students were impacted to know how to best support them, and now our focus must be executing new strategies as a statewide community.”

The performance breakdown in math and ELA is the following:

Top 5 districts meeting or exceeding expectations in ELA

  • Barrington, 68.4%
  • Jamestown, 67.6%
  • Glocester, 65.3%
  • Little Compton, 61.1%
  • East Greenwich, 58.9%

Bottom 5 districts meeting or exceeding expectations in ELA

  • Woonsocket, 12.2%
  • Providence, 14.1%
  • Pawtucket, 17.8%
  • Newport, 17.9%
  • West Warwick, 19.9%

Top 5 districts meeting or exceeding expectations in math

  • Barrington, 54.3%
  • Jamestown, 50.8%
  • Glocester, 45.8%
  • North Kingstown, 45.2%
  • Little Compton, 45.1%

Bottom 5 districts meeting or exceeding expectations in math

  • Providence, 6.8%
  • Pawtucket, 7.4%
  • Newport, 8.3%
  • Burrillville, 10.8%
  • Johnston, 11.9%

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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