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VDOE leader appointed by Youngkin says as talks of learning equity increased, achievement gaps did too

Looking at 2019 data, the report says only 38% of Virginia's fourth graders were proficient in reading, and that metric dropped to 33% for eighth grade students.

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Department of Education submitted a scathing review of education gaps in public schools to Gov. Glenn Youngkin's office on Thursday.

Looking at data from 2019, the report says only 38% of Virginia's fourth-grade students were proficient in reading, and that metric dropped to 33% when looking at the commonwealth's eighth-grade students. 

Reading SOL test scores for students in third through eighth grades went down every year from 2017-2019.

The document also says fewer than half of graduating seniors show a readiness for college math, pointed out a drop in average AP exams, and discussed an increase in the number of students who left public schools for either private school or homeschool alternatives during the pandemic.

Jillian Balow, the Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction, penned a forward to the 33-page report that said its findings "should create a sense of urgency and importance for all of us."

Balow was appointed to the job by Youngkin back in January. The two presented the report in a conference, which you can watch below.

"Our reputation and overall high-average performance masks widening students achievement gaps in the Commonwealth’s schools and a recent slip in comparison with other states on a range of academic achievement measures," the report says. "Further, state leaders have lowered expectations for students and redefined success for both students and schools. Accordingly, our trend lines on key measurements are heading in the wrong direction."

She said "rhetorical emphasis on equity" was increasing at the same time that these achievement gaps were widening.

Youngkin caught national attention at the beginning of his governorship for instituting a public school tip line for "inherently divisive concepts." That's led some teachers to worry about the continuity of Black history education in the classroom.

RELATED: News organizations sue Youngkin over school tip line emails

The report comes in response to Youngkin's Executive Order One, where he wrote: "The Superintendent of Public Instruction shall issue a report to the Secretary of Education and me within 90 days on the status of efforts to close the 'achievement gap' in K-12 education, with recommendations for additional executive and 4 legislative actions that should be undertaken to ensure all students are graduating high school career and college ready."

The order also asks the superintendent to end all inherently divisive concepts, review equity programs, and turn attention to students' proficiencies in reading and mathematics.

In the report's announcement Thursday, Youngkin said Virginia needed to take bold steps forward for students.

"Each child gets one shot at an excellent education: one chance, and we have a responsibility to do everything that we can to make sure that that child has the best chance," he said. "The significant lowering of expectations, the lack of transparency with data, the weak accountability for results, that all ends today."

Following its release, Democratic leaders in the Virginia Senate blasted the report. You can read their full statements below:

Majority Leader Dick Saslaw said: “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.”

Caucus Chair Mamie Locke said: “The report released by Governor Youngkin today is a joke designed to undermine and criticize the Board of Education, public school administrators, and teachers–ignoring the hard work they have done, even in the midst of a pandemic. These proposals–if you can call dog-whistle talking points as such–prove the Youngkin Administration’s incompetence in developing real-world policy. His priority is supposed to be–but obviously not actually is–education. Senate Democrats will not stand for such tomfoolery, and are dedicated to actual solutions and real-life impacts instead of platitudes and promises based on lies.”

Chair of the Education & Health Committee Louise Lucas said: “We all know Governor Youngkin’s end goal–to erase Black history and any mention of equity from Virginia’s curricula. This misguided effort based on fake news and debunked theories is an outright attack from the far right, riling up racist constituencies with lies and deceit. This report shows once again that Governor Youngkin wants to take us back to the days of Jim Crow–and I would know, having lived through it. His backwards thinking will throw Virginia’s progress in reverse, harming the next generation and hindering the Commonwealth’s future.”

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