New Report Details the Current State of Virginia Education
“Lower expectations, wider gaps, and lack of transparency.”
This is the assessment provided by Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and the Department of Education in a newly released report to Governor Glenn Youngkin. The report is a transparent reflection on the state’s current system of education and outlines a path toward higher achievement and more transparency for parents.
Governor Youngkin won his election last November campaigning on parental concerns over public education in the state. This report, titled “Our Commitment to Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence for All Students,” is a significant step toward better transparency, accountability, and achievement in Virginia schools aimed at giving parents an honest look at how students in the state are performing.
The report cites polling which shows 90% of parents nationally believe their student is at or above grade level in math and reading. The unfortunate reality is that just 37% of American students are performing at or above grade level in these subject areas. In Virginia specifically, a stunning 42% of 2nd graders scored below the reading benchmark on the state literacy exam. The Virginia Department of Education was especially critical of the State Board of Education’s decision to lower proficiency standards in math and reading for students back in 2018 – a move that artificially boosted the number of proficient students and hid years of declining achievement, particularly among minority and low-income students.
The Department report also provides insight into the extent of pandemic-related learning loss as students were forced onto Zoom for their classes. In Virginia, math performance fell seven points more than the national average, and reading performance fell one point more than the national average. The losses were especially high for minority students. There has been a 23% drop in the number of Hispanic third graders who are proficient in reading and a 16% drop among black third graders.
Consistent with much of ALEC’s key policy ideas for 2022, the report concludes by outlining the Youngkin administration’s guiding principles for education in Virginia moving forward: high expectations, empowering parents and teachers, zero-tolerance for discrimination, innovation, transparency and accountability, post-secondary readiness, and freedom of speech and inquiry.
Many of the problems highlighted by the Virginia Department of Education are prevalent across the country. In California and Rhode Island, schools came under fire for proposing to cut back the number of honors courses being offered in order to “increase equity” among students. Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed a bill to suspend the state’s graduation testing requirements for three years in an effort to improve equity – a move that green-lights the graduating of students who are behind and not proficient in essential subjects.
Policymakers in many states are kept in the dark when it comes to student achievement and school performance. Detailed statistics are often unavailable; testing standards vary from state to state and are often impossible to compare, and administrators can alter the definition of “proficient” to artificially inflate the number of students meeting benchmarks. This lack of quality, substantive data not only inhibits policymakers from responding to critical issues in education, but it also keeps parents in the dark as to how well their school is performing. This new report from Governor Youngkin’s administration is a crucial first step toward keeping parents, lawmakers, and the public accurately informed and holding all schools in the state accountable for their performance.