The two-year pandemic has hampered learning for the Island’s youngest school children, according to West Tisbury student data recently presented to the up-Island school committee.

Just 23 per cent of West Tisbury first graders were reading at or above grade level when they started school in September, while in math 75 per cent were significantly below grade level with only 19 per cent at or above it, principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt told the committee.

“Math took a larger hit, nationwide, than reading, and we are certainly seeing that,” she said.

Proficiency numbers this low were previously unheard of at the school, Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt said.

“This is highly unusual data,” she said. “These are much lower than we typically see come in.”

Among second graders returning last fall, Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt said, the picture was very different and more akin to a typical year.

“In September, 73 per cent of our [second-grade] students were at or above grade level . . . in February, 76 per cent were or at or above grade level.”

Many second-graders are reading significantly above grade level, she added.

In math, 64 per cent of second graders were at or above grade level in September and 29 per cent significantly below. By February, the numbers were 76 per cent and 13 per cent, Ms. Lowell-DeBettencourt said.

“Different grade levels, different impacts,” she said. “These kids got a lot of those foundational skills. You hear all the time about the early childhood experience being so significant. I think you can see some of that here. These kids definitely had a much better start.”

The first graders, by comparison, have suffered more learning disruption from the pandemic, which began almost at the outset of their school lives.

“Some of them didn’t attend preschool [where they] would have gotten some early childhood pieces in place, and many of them, if they did attend preschool, their preschool was impacted,” Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt said.

But they’re now catching up, with more than half of first graders reading at or above the higher grade-level standard their class had reached in February, Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt said.

“The mark changes throughout the year, so not only have that many students caught up, they’ve actually caught up to not the September, but . . . the February benchmark. “That’s a lot of progress kids are making, so we’re really happy to see that,” she said.

In math, the gains have been even greater, with 50 per cent at or above grade level and only 36 per cent significantly below the mark in February, Ms. Lowell-DeBettencourt said.

The West Tisbury School has been offering additional learning support for first-graders, beginning in late August with reading groups before school started, she said.

The school also is applying for a state grant to establish a summer session for about 100 students, Ms. Lowell-DeBettencourt told the board.

“We should hear about it, probably, within a month,” she said.