Friday, January 27, 2023

National Assessment Shows Significant Drops in Virginia Reading and Math Scores

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin speaking to reporters in Richmond on Oct. 24. (Nathaniel Cline/Virginia Mercury)

RICHMOND — With the results of a national educational assessment showing significant declines in both reading and math, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin is directing the Virginia Board of Education to raise Virginia’s testing standards. 

On Monday, the National Center for Education Statistics released the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a nationwide look at fourth- and eighth-grade student achievement. The results showed declines in Virginia in both reading and math between 2019 and 2022, and continuous drops in fourth graders’ proficiency since 2017.

“Today, every Virginian clearly sees that our children need us now more than ever,” said Youngkin. “Achievement gaps in critical fields of math and reading could seriously dim the bright futures of a generation of Virginia students, and that’s why we must and are doubling down our commitment to Virginians, and specifically, our commitment to Virginia’s children.”

Assessment officials said average scores in math and reading for both fourth and eighth grade students declined nationally.

In August, results from Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests also showed achievement drops over the course of the pandemic.

State Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera said the NAEP results offer a “clear and heart-wrenching” statement that Virginia is failing students and called the “catastrophic decline” a “predictable outcome of the decade-long systemic dismantling of a foundational commitment to excellence in education.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow also accused the prior two Democratic administrations of “systemically” lowering school standards and expectations and downplaying assessment data showing drops.


Virginia and national averages, 2022

NAEP scores are assigned on a scale of 0 to 500. Parentheses show difference from 2019.

Virginia’s Averages

  • Math grade 4: 236 (-11)
  • Reading grade 4: 214 (-10)
  • Math grade 8: 279 (-8)
  • Reading grade 8: 260 (-2)

National Averages

  • Math grade 4: 235 (-5)
  • Reading grade 4: 216 (-3)
  • Math grade 8: 273 (-8)
  • Reading grade 8: 259 (-3)

“Using the SOL scores, we report that two-thirds of fourth graders are doing well, and that’s just not true,” Balow said. “Parents and teachers cannot take action unless they all know that we are nowhere near two-thirds proficient with our students.”

Senate Democrats pushed back against the Republican administration’s assertions.

In a joint statement, Sens. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield, disputed the idea that their party had lowered educational standards.

“We have staffing shortages in schools across Virginia, students aren’t receiving the proper resources to set every child up for success, and many schools need funding for structural improvements to increase the quality of education,” said Lucas. “Now is not the time to point fingers at those who are no longer in leadership.”

Youngkin announces priorities including grants and tutoring services

On Monday, Youngkin rolled out a set of proposals he said will help stem learning losses. Last month, he announced plans to address teacher shortages in Virginia through steps such as hiring retired educators.

The governor said his administration is investing $30 million in learning recovery grants to help parents connect their children with one-on-one lessons or a virtual tutor and announced the launch of partnerships with Khan Academy and Schoolhouse, two organizations that provide educational resources and tutoring services.

Additionally, the administration said it plans to expand its Bridging the Gap pilot program, which aims to provide school divisions additional resources and data to close learning gaps, from 15 to 25 schools.

Under Bridging the Gap, parents, students and teachers will be provided with individual reports on educational progress and learning plans for every student in grades 4 through 12.

Governor tells schools to spend remaining federal funds

Youngkin urged school districts to spend their remaining federal recovery funds to address achievement gaps. Virginia has nearly $2 billion in unspent funds that “could be spent on proven learning recovery efforts,” he said, including extended school years and teacher bonuses.

School divisions have until Dec. 31 to update their spending plans under the governor’s direction.

The governor singled out several school divisions for having millions available, including Fairfax and Henrico counties and the cities of Norfolk, Richmond and Virginia Beach.

“The money is in the bank,” Youngkin said. “It should be spent on things that will get our kids back on track for success. That’s why the money was given to you. Put it to work.”

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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