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Rhode Island Department of Education Releases Results of 2021 Next Generation Science Assessments

PROVIDENCE, RI – The Rhode Island Department of Education today released the results of the 2021 Next Generation Science Assessments (NGSA). The NGSA are administered in grades 5, 8, and 11 to measure students' knowledge and practices of the Next Generation Science Standards, a set of K–12 science content standards developed and adopted by a coalition of 26 states.

"The pandemic disrupted students' learning experience, but our commitment to giving them a high-quality science education hasn't wavered," said Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. "Science is one of our most hands-on subjects, and not being able to participate in-person was even more difficult for students. We are working hard to keep our kids in the classroom where they can best learn and grow."

"This new set of assessment data sheds further light on the impact of the pandemic on student learning," said Board of Education Chair Barbara Cottam. "From rapid advancement in technology to growing environmental concerns, a great understating of science is key in preparing the leaders of tomorrow to address the most pressing real-world challenges we face. The Education Council will continue to work closely with RIDE on efforts to introduce, engage, and educate students in these important disciplines."

Participation in NGSA fell overall by 14.6 percentage points, from 96.8% of students participating in 2019 to 82.2% of students in 2021. Under 80% of students participated in the Grade 8 and 11 assessments. As with other assessments administered during the pandemic, differently-abled, economically disadvantaged, and homeless students faced greater barriers to participation, with the percentage of students participating in the NGSA from those three groups falling by 17.1, 19.2, and 21.4 percentage points respectively.

Overall, student performance across all grades rose slightly from 31.3% of students meeting expectations in 2019 to 32.1% of students meeting expectations in 2021. From 2019 to 2021, the percentage of students meeting expectations in Grades 5 and 8 fell from 32.1% to 30.4% and from 31.1% to 30.6% respectively. The percentage of students meeting expectations in Grade 11 rose by 5.2%, from 30.5% in to 35.7%. Further investigation into the effect of decreased participation may be necessary to contextualize these changes.

Other groups within the multi-state science assessment saw similar or greater drops in proficiency. Vermont, which is identified as Rhode Island's partner state within the coalition and which uses the same content standards, saw similar declines in grade 5, significantly larger declines in grade 8, and no change in grade 11. However, Rhode Island remains behind Vermont in its overall scores.

Student subgroup performance did not change substantially from 2019 to 2021 with the exception of a 4.8 percentage point drop in homeless students meeting expectations. Overall, student performance increased for all race/ethnicity subgroups except American Indian or Alaska Native, which declined by 3.3 percentage points. While many student groups saw increases, many vulnerable student groups identified in the LEAP report have proficiency levels below 20%.

RIDE is taking a number of steps to better understand student proficiency in science and to bolster learning efforts:

  • Over the past school year, RIDE administered its first-ever survey of school science curriculums, as it has done annually with Mathematics and English Language Arts, to better understand what tools students and teachers have for science education in the state.
  • To support the state’s science teachers, RIDE has established a Community of Practice for science and mathematics teachers and leaders that provides relevant professional learning as well as problem of practice forums.
  • In the coming school year, 21 districts will administer an interim assessment to students in grades 3-11 to identify strengths and areas for improvement for future science instruction.

All of these steps are part of RIDE’s larger LEAP plan to accelerate student learning, including support for local education agencies, blueprints for multilingual learner and differently-abled student learning, extended learning opportunities, and greater social-emotion supports for students.