More Discouraging News for Virginia Student Test Scores

by James A. Bacon

As recently as 2015, the percentage of Virginia high school graduates qualifying for college credit on at least one Advanced Placement test ranked third in the nation. In the 2021-2022 school year, according to data released by the College Board, Virginia’s percentage had fallen to 11th in the country, slipping two notches from the previous year.

“Virginia’s 2021-2022 AP results are yet another sad reminder that when previous Administrations lowered expectations, Virginia’s children suffer,” said Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera in a press release. “The commonwealth must reverse the declines in the AP scores that have occurred over the last 10 years by restoring rigor and celebrating the achievements of our students.”

The College Board also reported that 25.2% of 2022 graduating Virginia seniors earned a score of three or higher on at least one AP test, down from 26.9% for 2021 graduates, and from 30% for 2014 grads.

The breakdown by racial/ethnic groups, according to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) press release, was as follows:

  • Asian students: 53.7%.
  • American Indian students: 28.2%.
  • Black students: 8.5%.
  • Hispanic students: 20.0%.
  • White students: 27.1%.

VDOE did not indicate how much the pass rates declined for each group, so it is not clear if the racial achievement gap got better or worse since 2015.

A complicating factor in interpreting these numbers is the percentage of all high school seniors taking advanced placement exams. As a rule, when a larger percentage of students in a given state takes an AP exam, it means the state is digging deeper into its academic talent pool and the pass rate is likely to be lower. The VDOE press release did not indicate whether the percentage of Virginia test takers has increased or declined as a percentage of all seniors since 2015, or how that change compares to the percentage for other states.

Update: College Board data supplied to Bacon’s Rebellion by VDOE indicates that the percentage of Virginia high school students taking an AP exam declined from 43% in 2015 to 38.7% in 2021 to 38.0% in 2022. In other words, the decline in the pass rate coincided with a decline in the percentage of test takers. The fall-off in the pass rate cannot be attributed to a surge in lower-achieving students taking the exams.

Although Virginia’s relative standing compared to other states is declining, the AP pass rates for students in the Old Dominion still exceeds the national average. That’s of little consolation to the Youngkin administration, however, which has repeatedly emphasized that Virginia’s education system is heading in the wrong direction.

Guidera attributes the declining pass rates to declining educational standards and expectations in Virginia school districts. In the press release, she said she would work with the incoming superintendent of public instruction, Lisa Coons, to restore the performance of Virginia’s students in advanced courses. “We must raise the floor and the ceiling for Virginia’s students.”