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Virginia Department of Education Releases Student Success Report

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The Virginia Department of Education painted a grim picture of student achievement in the state in a report released Thursday, saying children are performing poorly on national assessments in reading and math and are at lags behind their peers in other states.

The 34-page report on student academic achievement, commissioned as part of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s first executive order, says these trends are particularly pronounced among black, Hispanic and low-income students. The report further criticizes what it calls school districts’ lack of transparency about declining student performance — and it laments the “erosion” of parental trust in public schools across the state.

“We are not serving all the children in Virginia and we have to,” Youngkin said at a press conference in Richmond, where he and his education team presented the report. “We want to be the best in education. We should be the best in education. And the data that is compiled and shared with you today suggests that we have a lot of work to do to be the best.

A Washington Post analysis of the report, however, suggests its use of the data is misleading and shows that students in Virginia have performed at least as well or better than students nationwide in recent years. And some educators and The politicians immediately objected to the report on Thursday, criticizing its presentation and analysis of student test scores.

Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said in a statement, “To accuse Virginia’s education system of failure is an outright lie, backed by hand-picked data and a distorted perspective.

Although Youngkin dismissed education equity initiatives and called “equity” a “very confusing word,” he vowed on Thursday to close racial and socioeconomic performance gaps by providing more funding for school facilities, increases for teachers and innovation in early childhood and literacy. programs – anything that should be included in the two-year state budget that the General Assembly must finalize by July 1. And he is committed to employing the best teachers to serve the neediest students.

The Department of Education report also outlines steps to improve students’ academic skills, including developing an improved assessment system in the state, revising Virginia school accreditation standards, and hiring reading specialists to improve student literacy.

At Thursday’s press conference, senior Virginia education officials condemned education policy decisions made by previous administrations, particularly a 2017 revision to Virginia’s credentialing standards that allowed progress Students’ academic records count for accreditation with their test scores. Education Secretary Aimee Guidera said such moves were part of a misguided push for equity.

“There was a general culture of lowering expectations,” Guidera said. “What happened before was we took our eyes off the ball in the state of Virginia.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow added, “This report is a renewal of our shared purpose…Virginia is moving in a new direction and our focus is on students first.”

Exploring the “honesty gap”

Asked what their biggest concerns are about student performance, Guidera and Balow pointed to the “honesty gap.” This measures the difference between Virginia students’ pass rates on state-level assessments known as the Learning Standards, or SOL, and their performance on a test known as the National Performance Assessment. education, or NAEP.

The report compares the percentage of fourth- and eighth-grade Virginia students who achieved SOL math and reading pass rates in 2015, 2017, and 2019 with the percentage of fourth- and eighth-grade Virginia students who scored “at or above” the NAEP. in those same three years. In each of those three years, the percentage of Virginia students achieving pass rates on the SOL hovered around 70% — but the percentage of students achieving a “competent” score on the NAEP ranged between 30 and 40. %. The report calls these differences “troubling”.

But that’s not an appropriate comparison, according to federal officials and education experts. The Virginia SOL pass rates for reading and math in fourth and eighth grades measure grade-level proficiency in reading or math. However, the NAEP rating of “competence” is not equivalent to grade level proficiency, as repeatedly stated by federal agencies and education analysts. Instead, the NAEP score “at baseline or above” is a better indicator of whether a student is at grade level, according to Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which oversees the NAEP. Federal studies have shown year after year that the NAEP base score most closely approximates state pass rates and that the appropriate comparison to draw is between state pass rates and the percentage of students achieving a score of base.

Making this comparison makes the honesty gap disappear. In 2015, 2017, and 2019, the percentage of Virginia students earning a baseline score in the NAEP for fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math hovered in the high 70s. In nearly all cases, it was above or equal to the percentage of children passing the Virginia SOL in these subjects. It was also higher than the national average, usually around the 70s.

The report fails to mention that seeing 30-40% of students earning “proficiency” in reading and math on the NAEP means that students in Virginia scored “significantly higher” on average than students in country.

In 2019, NAEP results show that 48% of fourth-graders in Virginia achieved proficient results in math, while 38% did so in reading. In comparison, the national public average showed that 40% of pupils were proficient in mathematics, while 34% were proficient in reading. Virginia’s scores meant she ranked third in the nation in fourth-grade math performance and ninth in the nation in fourth-grade reading performance.

In the same year, NAEP results show that 38% of eighth graders in Virginia were proficient in math and 33% in reading. In comparison, the national public average showed that 33% of students were proficient in mathematics, while 32% of students were proficient in reading. Virginia’s scores meant she ranked seventh in the nation for eighth-grade math performance.

Asked why the Department of Education chose to compare Virginia SOL pass rates with the NAEP proficiency score, rather than the base score, Balow said in a statement that “benchmarks proficiency on Virginia’s fourth and eighth grade reading tests are below baseline. on the NAEP,” adding that “low standards do not benefit students.”

Asked about the same issue on Thursday, Youngkin said, “One of the biggest mistakes we can make is trying to refute extremely clear data.”

Youngkin’s office released statements Thursday from some public and education leaders — including former governors L. Douglas Wilder (D) and Robert F. McDonnell (R) — praising the Department of Education’s report.

“I am grateful that the commitments made by state officials and the VDOE shine a light on our students who do not always have the same access to opportunities in school as other students in Virginia,” said Maria Pitre. -Martin, Superintendent of Petersburg Public Schools.

But others disagreed. The Virginia Education Association, a teachers’ union, called the report “biased” and designed to “get the public to want school choice metrics like vouchers”. The association shared a video of Guidera speaking at an April panel hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, in which she promised to release data on students’ poor academic performance to “hopefully. .. having these conversations about expanding choices outside of the public system.”

Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings Jr. said the report inspired him to navigate to the NAEP website, where he found Virginia students consistently scored higher. to the national average.

“So I don’t really understand the whole premise of this report,” he said, which “was around us performing so much worse than everyone else.”

Regarding the report’s discussion of racial and socio-economic disparities in student achievement, Hutchings said the data has been made public – including by the Northam administration, which released an “EdEquityVA” report including a plan to improve the performance of black and Hispanic students.

Hutchings pointed out that the EdEquity report is no longer available on the state Department of Education website. It was removed as part of the Youngkin administration’s sweeping purge of policies, memos and programs that his predecessor had launched to foster diversity, equity and inclusion in schools.

Concerns about “age-appropriate” teaching, accreditation

During his press conference on Thursday, Youngkin sounded the alarm about teaching inappropriate for his age. Its language is reminiscent of rhetoric that has been used to justify bills restricting gender identity and sexual orientation education in other states, including Florida.

But Youngkin refused to explain what he meant.

“I think one of the biggest challenges we have is that we don’t allow our kids to be, in fact, kids,” he said. “And they’re being forced into discussions that they’re not ready to have, frankly, they’re not ready to have, all in the name of wanting to enlighten them.”

When asked if he was talking about race or sexuality, Youngkin declined to elaborate. Spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said she believed the governor was referring to sexually explicit material. Guidera said she was uncertain.

Education Department officials, meanwhile, reserved their strongest criticism for a 2017 change to Virginia’s standards for school accreditation, an important state-level measure of quality and performance. schools. This revision, enacted by the Virginia Board of Education, said schools would be graded on student progress in subjects as well as student performance on tests.

Balow said that change was responsible for what she called the state’s declining academic standards and said officials were working to revise accreditation standards.

“Looking at growth metrics is incredibly, incredibly important, but we shouldn’t think of it as being the same as competence,” she said.