Virginia students backslide after COVID closures, lowered standards create ‘disturbing trends’: Report

on May19
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Virginia education officials lowered expectations for student achievement during former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s tenure in office, and the consequences of the move melded with those of the COVID-19 pandemic to formulate the perfect disaster, according to a new report.

A recent assessment from Virginia superintendent of public instruction Jillian Balow found that controversial COVID-19 school closures only heightened already existing troubles with backsliding student achievement that stemmed from Northam-era standard changes. 

A sign taped to the front door of Pulaski International School of Chicago reads, School Closed after Chicago Public Schools, the nation's third-largest school district, said it would cancel classes since the teachers' union voted in favor of a return to remote learning, in Chicago, Jan. 5, 2022.  REUTERS/Jim Vondruska

A sign taped to the front door of Pulaski International School of Chicago reads, School Closed after Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, said it would cancel classes since the teachers’ union voted in favor of a return to remote learning, in Chicago, Jan. 5, 2022.  REUTERS/Jim Vondruska
(REUTERS/Jim Vondruska)

Balow’s foreword entailed that Black and Brown students as well as students living below the poverty line are most affected by the shakeup in the state’s educational policies, including those brought on by the pandemic.

Balow discussed the state’s learning loss by delving into the culprits behind the alarming downturn in educational performance before pledging a new path of greater opportunities.

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“It is important to point out that already-present declines in student achievement were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic school closures in Virginia,” she wrote. “Research is emerging regarding learning losses that occurred nationwide. There is consensus that school closures widened achievement gaps, more so for Black and brown students, and those in high-poverty schools.”

Glenn Youngkin, governor of Virginia, speaks prior to signing executive actions in the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Glenn Youngkin, governor of Virginia, speaks prior to signing executive actions in the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
(Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Balow pivoted to a recent study revealing that, out of an eleven-state assessment, Virginia offered the lowest percentage of in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year and simultaneously had the most significant decline in state assessment pass rates.

Student backsliding onset in 2017 when state education leaders “changed accreditation requirements” to “de-emphasize grade-level proficiency in reading and math,” according to the assessment.

Statistics provided by the findings reveal the urgency behind the push for change, indicating that only 33 percent of Virginian eighth graders and only 38 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading.

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The report’s statistics also show that 42 percent of Virginia’s second graders scored below reading benchmark levels on the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS) test and the state fell from third to ninth in the percentage of students earning college credit from AP exams while in high school. 

“This report should create a sense of urgency and importance for all of us,” Balow wrote.

“Public decisions made at the state level created confusion in Virginia education and downplayed troubling trends. It is noteworthy that the rhetorical emphasis on equity coincided with the widened gaps in student achievement. And now, decisions at the state level must correct those errors and reverse these disturbing trends,” she added.

Virginia parents became frustrated with a plethora of education-related issues, including mask mandates, school closures, inappropriate course content and controversial subject matter such as gender rhetoric and critical race theory and took their frustration to the polls in last November’s gubernatorial election.

Current Gov. Glenn Youngkin ran on a platform of parental involvement and transparency in education and pledged to take on the allegedly radical content being taught to students in addition to letting parents know more about their children’s education.

“We commit to placing Virginia education on a new path,” Balow added in the report. “[Including] more opportunities for every student, integrity in reporting the performance of our students, greater transparency through the use of data, and increased engagement by all stakeholders, especially parents.”



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