Glenn Youngkin calls latest student test scores ‘catastrophic’

Math and reading scores declined in Virginia, as they did around the country, according to the results of a closely watched national test, findings that Gov. Glenn Youngkin said Monday were “catastrophic.”

“I hope we’re all shocked, because we should be,” Youngkin said at a news conference in Richmond highlighting Virginia’s performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the “nation’s report card.”

The test was administered to hundreds of thousands of 4th and 8th graders across the country this year. It’s typically given every two years, but the 2021 administration was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The results showed lower average scores in both reading and math among 4th graders, as well as lower 8th grade math scores, though 8th grade reading scores were not significantly different than in 2019. According to an analysis of Virginia’s results by the Youngkin administration, 4th graders in Virginia between 2017 and 2022 saw the largest declines in reading and math in the nation. And for the first time in decades, Virginia’s 4th grade students fell below the national average in reading and are barely above the national average in math, the administration said.

Nationally, scores were lagging even before the pandemic, but the new results show decreases on a scale not seen before.

“We must acknowledge the glaring reality that we face together: Our nation’s children have experienced catastrophic learning loss, and Virginia students are among the hardest hit,” Youngkin, a Republican, said at the news conference.

Youngkin, who has long been sharply critical of policy changes made under the previous two Democratic governors, outlined seven steps he said his administration would pursue in an effort to address the falling performance, including overhauling the state’s school accreditation system and strengthening its pipeline of teachers.

He also directed Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow to require all school divisions to update their spending plans for federal recovery funds, saying multiple school districts have over $100 million unspent.

“The money is in the bank. It should be spent on things that will get our kids back on track for success,” he said.

Dr. James Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, a union of teachers and support staff, said in a statement that Youngkin’s proposals fall short, including by failing to offer “a dime of new spending.”

“Addressing our real challenges in public schools will take real targeted investments in what’s proven to work: competitive pay, adequate support staff, after school activities, teacher mentorship programs, small class sizes, and modern school infrastructure,” Fedderman said.

Senate Democrats accused the Governor, who has been zipping around the country in recent months to campaign with GOP midterm candidates, of politicizing the issue and pointing fingers.

“In a time where we need proper leadership from the governor, instead of taking time off the road to find solutions to learning loss problems in Virginia’s schools, he’d instead place the blame on previous administrations,” said Sen. Louise Lucas, who chairs the Senate Education and Health committee. “While Youngkin is trying to prove he is fit for national leadership, he isn’t dealing with the problems in his Commonwealth.”

Monday’s results followed the release in August of findings from statewide standardized test scores, which also showed worrisome trends. While scores on the Standards of Learning assessments showed some improvement from a year prior, achievement in all areas remained below pre-pandemic levels, the Department of Education said at the time.

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