Report detailing achievement gap in Va. classrooms at center of debate among state, school leaders

A report detailing performance in Virginia schools has led to some concerns among state leaders, while raising questions around whether it is an accurate representation of progress in the classroom.

Expectations and standards have been on the decline across Virginia alongside a growing achievement gap among students, according to a report released by the Virginia Department of Education.

The report, presented Thursday by Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera and Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, detailed a drop in reading tests from 2017 to 2019 among students in third through eighth grade. It said that the state has not been transparent about issues the education system is currently facing.

“We don’t believe the data points fairly reflect the good work that teachers are doing in school divisions,” said Ben Kiser, president of The Virginia Association of School Superintendents.

Kiser added that there are a number of data points left out of the report, many of which are crucial to accuracy, including more consideration for students who earn industry certifications or associate degrees while in high school.

Atif Qarni served as the state secretary of education under former Gov. Ralph Northam. He said that while there is room for progress, he agrees with Kiser’s view on how the state’s schools are being portrayed.

Qarni pointed out more participation in AP classes and recommendations from the Board of Education, which include more school counselors and reading specialists, are not included.

“There’s no mention of that in this report, and there has been no mention of that by Governor Youngkin at all,” he stressed.

The possible solutions laid out by Gov. Glenn Youngkin include strategies outlined in the Literacy Act and the Lab School Bill. Funding for both is still being considered by the General Assembly. Kiser said he’d like to see more details on how the state plans to better support students following the findings.

School leaders said the report is just the starting point for revising accreditation standards when it comes to testing. There are also plans to put more focus on equity at the state and local level.

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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