Governor Youngkin discusses state of education in Virginia; VEA responds


RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ) – Governor Glenn Youngkin talked Thursday about a Virginia Department of Education report on education in Virginia, regarding “high expectations and excellence for all students.”

Watch the news conference stream above.

Youngkin’s team says the report details how state policy choices and priorities have resulted in lower student achievement in reading and mathematics, wider achievement gaps, reduced transparency, and eroding parent confidence in the Commonwealth’s public schools.

“Virginia’s public schools have long enjoyed a reputation for academic excellence,” said Governor Youngkin. “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.”

The key findings in the report can be found below:

· Virginia now has the lowest proficiency standards in reading and mathematics in the nation, resulting in the wide “honesty gaps” between the performance of students on state Standards of Learning tests and performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

· Despite statistically significant declines in the reading performance of Virginia students on the 2019 NAEP and on state assessments, the Board of Education voted in 2020 to lower the proficiency standard on all elementary, middle school, and high school SOL reading tests.

· The Board of Education’s Standards of Accreditation — once an accountability model for other states — now de-emphasize grade-level proficiency in reading and mathematics and mask wide achievement gaps.

· Pre-pandemic results from college entrance examinations taken by 2019 Virginia high graduates show wide disparities in college readiness, especially in mathematics.

· Last fall, 42% of Virginia second-graders scored below the benchmark on the Commonwealth’s early literacy screening assessment.

· Homeschooling increased by 56% in 2020-2021 as the parents of 59,638 school-age children chose not to send their children to public schools. Despite the return to in-person instruction this year, the parents of 55,769 students chose homeschooling over enrolling their children in a public school. In addition, 5,828 students have transferred from Virginia public schools to in-state private schools since the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

I want to stress that this 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,” said Superintendent Jillian Balow. “But local decision-making inevitably reflects priorities and policy choices determined at the state level. I am committed to working with Governor Youngkin, the state Board of Education, and the General Assembly to reorder Virginia’s K-12 priorities, raise expectations for all of our students, and create an accreditation system that is transparent, honest, and that prioritizes grade-level proficiency.”

The report also lists Youngkin’s guiding principles, which can be found below:

· Establish and maintain high expectations for students, schools, and ourselves.

· Advance parent and teacher empowerment to best serve students in partnership.

· Demand zero-tolerance for discrimination in education and beyond.

· Foster innovation in all education environments.

· Provide transparency and accountability so that each child is seen and receives what they need to succeed.

· Ensure post-secondary readiness so that all learners can succeed in life.

· Protect and nurture freedom of speech and inquiry to ensure every student is taught how to think, not what to think.

“The future prosperity of our Commonwealth depends on how well we prepare our students,” said Governor Youngkin. “Working alongside parents, teachers, and policymakers, we will restore excellence in education and ensure that all students have access to quality education opportunities that prepare them for success in our workplaces, our communities, and our democracy.”

To see the full report, click here.

Virginia Education Association President James J. Fedderman made the following statement regarding the release of the Virginia Department of Education report on achievement gaps:

The Youngkin administration’s plan for Virginia’s 1.2 million public school students is now crystal clear: They will accept nothing short of privatizing our entire public education system in the name of “school choice,” and they are willing to say and do almost anything to make it happen.

This “report” does little to advance its stated goal, but goes to great lengths to disrespect and belittle the amazing work Virginia educators have done, and continue to do, under incredibly difficult circumstances. By ignoring the solid educational achievements made by Virginia students over the past several years while promoting politically convenient terms like “honesty gap,” this report only serves to further the Governor’s political agenda while failing to address any of the real needs in the Commonwealth’s classrooms.

For all the talk of leading with data, the report displays a shocking lack of commitment to best practices when it comes to analysis – using anomaly years to assert trends, highlighting analysis from more than seven years ago when current data is available, and ignoring critical variables like years when our state test standards and formats changed. The report barely mentions our most worrying achievement gap trends, such as those for English Language Learners.

Through blatant manipulation of data and failing to uplift the most obvious achievement gap challenges in Virginia, it’s clear the real intent of the report is political in nature.

If Governor Youngkin is concerned about an “honesty gap,” he need look no further than his own office to find it.

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