Virginia Education Secretary Blames Equity Push for Lowering Expectations in Schools

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Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera on Thursday called out policy makers for fostering a “general culture of just lowering of expectations” by prioritizing racial equity in the commonwealth’s public schools. 

Guidera made the remarks while presenting a Virginia Department of Education report detailing lagging achievement in schools. 

The VDOE report, which was authored by Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, notes that just 38 percent of Virginia’s fourth graders and 33 percent of eighth graders were proficient in reading on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Balow calls out an “honesty gap” between national assessment results and state Standards of Learning reading test results. In 2019, 75 percent of fourth graders and 76 percent of eighth graders were proficient in reading on the SOL reading tests, according to the report.

WTOP News reported that while the state SOL exams are administered to most students in Virginia annually, the national assessments are given every two years to a small sampling of students that are meant to create a statistically significant and randomized sampling.

Balow pointed to a recent study that found the commonwealth offered the lowest percentage of in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year out of eleven states included in the study. Virginia also saw the most significant decline in state assessment pass rates among the eleven states.

The report notes that a number of factors and policy choices over the last decade caused lagging achievement in the commonwealth’s schools that was then made worse by school closures during the pandemic.

The VDOE analysis says student backsliding began in 2017 when state education leaders “changed accreditation requirements” to “de-emphasize grade-level proficiency in reading and math.”

Balow said 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.

The report says that the state Department of Education and the state Board of Education will work to revise accreditation standards.

“What happened before today is we took our eye off the ball,” Guidera said, according to WTOP News.

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