Governor Youngkin discusses his plan to improve Virginia students' test scores

Posted at 12:10 PM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-20 14:14:33-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Governor Glen Youngkin released a report Thursday that his administration said shows an "unacceptable" decline in student performance and widening achievement gap, while promising steps to address the issue.

"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, we want to be the best in education," Youngkin said at a news conference where the report was presented. "The data that is compiled and shared with you today suggests that we have a lot of work to do to be the best. And beyond that, the trends have been heading in the wrong direction."

The report, authored by Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Ballow, was ordered by Youngkin on first day in office when he signed Executive Order 1.

Administration officials criticized state policy choices and priorities over the last decade that said led to four major takeaways.

"One, there's lower student achievement in reading and math. Two, there's a wider achievement gaps for our Black, Hispanic and low-income students," said Secretary of Education Amy Guidera. "Three, we have reduced transparency around outcomes and our startling downward trend lines and, four, there's eroding parent confidence in the Commonwealth's public schools."

The report said in 2017, the Virginia State Board of Education changed accreditation requirements to "de-emphasize grade-level proficiency in reading and math". It added Standards of Learning (SOL) reading scores for Virginia students in grades 3 thru 8 declined in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

The report also indicated student math scores performed below the national average from 2020 to 2022.

The report raised concerns about the differences between the proficiency scores on the SOLs and the grade-level proficiency benchmarks on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) — a nationwide test — with the difference between the two called the "Honesty Gap".

For example, the report states in 2019, 75% of Virginia fourth-graders were proficient or above in reading — but it was 38% on the NAEP, an honesty gap of 37. The report said the gap was wider with Black and Hispanic students — the same data points were at 62%/19% for Black fourth-graders and 64%/26% for Hispanic fourth-graders.

"Virginia’s public schools have long enjoyed a reputation for academic excellence,” Youngkin said. “But the data in this report demonstrates that Virginia’s student achievement gaps are disturbing and cannot be ignored. This report documents a clear and sobering lesson on the consequences for students when state leaders lower academic standards and dismantle accountability.”

"We have wised up to the dangerous rhetoric others use to divide us when all parents want to do is decide where their children should go to school," Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears (R - Virginia) said in a statement.
"The data is clear: our children are not learning and this is a national security crisis.”

The governor said his administration would use seven guiding principles in order to address the issues found in the report:

  • High expectations,
  • Parent and teacher empowerment,
  • Zero-tolerance for discrimination,
  • Innovation,
  • Transparency and accountability,
  • Post-secondary readiness,
  • Freedom of speech and inquiry.

"There is a clear path forward," he said. "The principles that we've committed to are unwavering. And I have tremendous confidence in this team. In teachers and superintendents. Yes, and school boards in order to go get this done."
Education groups, like the Virginia Education Association, and state Democrats called the report biased and said it cherry picked data points in an effort to privatize public education.

"I think what we really need to do is fully fund our education system, like the Board of Education has been saying we should do adopt the standards of quality that they have recommended since at least 2017. That we never adopted. And that's what's going to address the achievement gap," State Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D - Richmond) said.

Virginia House Democratic Caucus Chair Charniele Herring also took issue with some of the report's findings.

“This report seeks to do only one thing: create distrust for our public schools," Del. Herring (D - Fairfax) wrote in a statement. "Just because [Governor Youngkin] hasn’t been paying attention doesn’t mean that there has been a lack of transparency in reporting – the problems he highlighted are the same problems that Democrats are fighting to fix. Using data from the last five years, two of which were spent dealing with a global pandemic, tells an incomplete story of Virginia’s schools and we will not quietly stand by and watch this Governor lay the groundwork for tearing down our education system.”

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email to send a tip.

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