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VDOE report paints somber picture of state's public school system

State Superintendent Jillian Balow said declines in student performance that started before the pandemic were illuminated and exacerbated over the last two years.

NORFOLK, Va. — Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration said a new report paints a somber picture of the state of education in Virginia.

Virginia has the “lowest expectations” for students in the entire country, according to the report from the Virginia Dept. of Education.

State Superintendent Jillian Balow said declines in student performance that started before the pandemic were illuminated and exacerbated over the last two years. She said the data in the report should create some urgency for action.

On Thursday, Youngkin said something needs to change.

"They won’t catch up without significant intervention. That’s just an absolutely heartbreaking fact," the governor said.

The State Board of Education changed accreditation standards in 2017 and de-emphasized proficiency standards in reading and math. According to the report, in 2019 and 2020, that made it easier to pass Standards of Learning Tests.

But State Democrat Jennifer McLellan said the change in accreditation isn’t to blame—it’s a lack of funding.

"The changes by the board of education were designed to make sure we were meeting every student where they are," she said.

Take a look at some of the other highlights in the report:

  • Virginia has fallen from third to ninth in students earning college credit from AP exams.
  • Reading scores declined in grades 3 to 8 from 2017 to 2019 on SOL and other state assessments.
  • 45% of all Virginia students in 2019 were not college-ready in math on the SAT.
  • During the last school year, there was a 90% increase in students switching to homeschooling.
  • Close to 6,000 enrolled in in-state private schools since the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

Chanda Madison-Wise said she’s thinking about making some changes for her four children in Suffolk.

"Homeschool is definitely something that I have been considering and thinking about, honestly," she said.

Madison-Wise said her children aren’t being pushed as hard as she would like in the classroom.

"I do not feel that they are pushing our children to their potential," she said. "They give them so much space to be able to give up."

Some state Democrats said the report isn't completely accurate.

“To accuse Virginia’s education system of failure is an outright lie, supported by cherry-picked data and warped perspective. The Commonwealth’s schools have been ranked fourth in the nation by Forbes Magazine–hardly a liberal publication–and the best high school in the nation according to US News & World Report is right here in Fairfax County. Governor Youngkin is either unwilling or unable to recognize that Democratic leadership accomplished more for Virginia’s schools than Republican administrations, and Senate Democrats are furthering that objective by providing more pay for educators, dedicating funding to school construction, and much more in the proposed Senate budget," Majority Leader Dick Saslaw said in a statement.

Moving forward, The Virginia Department of Education said it'll focus on high expectations, transparency, innovation and post-secondary readiness.

The department is also planning to create a bipartisan study group to make recommendations to the General Assembly. The state will also review and revise academic standards.

You can view the entire 34-page report by clicking here.

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