From staff reports
Virginia’s K-12 school performance is backsliding due to reduced expectations for students and schools and a lack of transparency, resulting in a critical new assessment from Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction.
The report finds that Virginia’s public school closures during COVID-19 only exacerbated existing declines in student achievement, with the now “devastating” learning loss affecting Black and Hispanic students and students living in poverty.
The report says Virginia must arrest and reverse an “alarming trajectory” in reading and literacy, Mathematics and in preparedness for kindergarten.
“This report should create a sense of urgency and importance for all of us,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow says in the report’s foreword, addressed to Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera.
“Decisions made at the state level created a confusion in Virginia education and downplayed troubling Trends. It is noteworthy that the rhetorical emphasis is on equity coincided with the widened gaps in student achievement. And now, decisions at the state level must correct those errors and reverse these disturbing trends. “
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Speaking of the report Thursday, Youngkin said: “Today is a moment in time for all of us to recognize we must change direction. We are not serving all of Virginia’s children and we must.”
They said Virginia should be the best in education, but data compiled in the report “suggests that we have a lot of work to do” to be the best.
“The significant lowering of expectations, the lack of transparency with data, the weak accountability for these results, that all ends today,” Youngkin said.
Youngkin called for the report in an executive order he signed Jan. 15, the day he was inaugurated. In that same executive order the new Republican Governor also called for “ending the use of inherently divisive concepts” in Virginia’s K-12 public education.
The report asserts that during the term of Youngkin’s predecessor, Democrat Ralph Northam, Virginia education officials lowered expectations. For example, it says that the State Board of Education changed accreditation requirements in 2017 to “de-emphasize grade-level proficiency in reading and math.”
The report finds widening gaps in how Virginia students fare on national education assessments compared to Virginia’s standards of learning tests.
For instance, it says just 38% of Virginia fourth graders and 33% of eighth graders were proficient in reading on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress, compared with 75% and 76%, respectively, on the 2019 state fourth- and eighth- grade SOL reading tests.
It says this differentiation in performance between state and national assessments, which it calls the “honesty gap,” is wider for Black and brown students.
The report finds that 71% of Black fourth graders demonstrated proficiency on the Virginia’s 2019 math SOL compared with 26% on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It found that 77% of Hispanic students demonstrated proficiency on the SOL compared with 36% on the national assessment.
The report says that reading SOL test scores in grades 3 through 8 declined every year from 2017 to 2019, before the pandemic’s Onset in 2020.
It says that in the fall of 2021, 42% of Virginia’s second graders scored below the reading benchmark on the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening, called PALS.
The report also cites a 90% increase in students leaving the public school system for homeschooling between 2019-2020 to 2020-2021. It says 5,828 students have been transferred from Virginia public schools to in-state private schools since the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. Those numbers could be attributable, at least in part, to public school closures during the Pandemic.
Youngkin’s emphasis on parental education was a turning point in his successful campaign in 2021 against former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. He reasserted on Thursday that Virginia will continue to be a “Guiding light to the Nation” on parental involvement in education.
Youngkin also has made a push for “innovation” in education, calling for the establishment of 20 new lab schools. One of the unresolved issues still before the Legislature is the degree of seed funding for such schools.
The report says the administration will reestablish high expectations for students and schools. Among the proposed steps, it says “a bipartisan study group of stakeholders and assessment experts,” will help develop recommendations for the General Assembly in the fall 2023, ahead of the January 2024 session.
In an interim report in February, Youngkin’s new education department said it had scrapped the dose of resources for schools aimed at promoting diversity and equity, calling them divisive and at times discriminatory.
The Jan. 15 executive order said Balow was to provide a report to Youngkin and Guidera within 30 days on “any policies, programs, training, or Curricula that falls within the definition of inherently divisive concepts” and within 90 days “identify any necessary executive and legislative actions needed to end use of all inherently divisive concepts in public education. “
Youngkin said Thursday that the interim report and the new report covered that ground and no final report is coming on “divisive concepts.”