A Virginia Department of Education report released Thursday accuses the state’s public schools of lowering academic standards to avoid being honest with parents about worsening test scores and racial achievement gaps for K-12 students.
The report, presented at a Thursday morning press conference in Richmond by Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera, also calls for parents to have an expanded say in public education.
According to the 33-page document, a series of policy decisions to de-emphasize grade-level reading and math proficiency standards caused students to perform worse on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing than on state Standards of Learning (SOL) exams — an “honesty gap” that worsened during 2020 and 2021 pandemic lockdowns.
Students’ reading proficiency on state exams also dropped every year between 2017 and 2019, the report found.
“By not addressing the downward performance that has been happening for years, more students are bearing the brunt and falling even farther behind,” the report states.
The report found that in 2019, only 38% of Virginia fourth-graders and 33% of eighth-graders achieved reading proficiency on the NAEP, compared to 75% and 76%, respectively, on the SOL reading tests for those grade levels.
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Among students of color, 71% of Black fourth-graders passed the state math test in 2019, compared to 26% who achieved proficiency on the national test. That same year, 77% of Hispanic fourth-graders passed the SOL math test compared to 36% who passed the NAEP.
Ms. Guidera and Ms. Balow said state education officials under previous administrations lowered the standards to paint a happier picture of student performance as racial achievement gaps worsened.
“Virginians deserve to know the truth about how our children are doing,” Ms. Guidera said.
Ms. Balow added that the report “is not an indictment of our teachers, principals, and other school leaders.”
“They have worked tirelessly over the last few years under extraordinary conditions and circumstances,” Ms. Balow said. “But local decision-making inevitably reflects priorities and policy choices determined at the state level.”
Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who made public education a focus of his campaign last year, frequently complained during the election cycle about the state’s schools focusing on critical race theory and masking mandates rather than on student success.
He requested the report, titled “Our Commitment to Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence for All Students,” in the first executive order he signed upon taking office in January.
“This report documents a clear and sobering lesson on the consequences for students when state leaders lower academic standards and dismantle accountability,” Mr. Youngkin said Thursday.