The Virginia Media’s Astonishing Response to the NAEP Scores

by James A. Bacon

The release of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores has hit Virginia’s mainstream media outlets like a backhand across the face. Presented undeniable evidence of a catastrophic decline in the educational performance of Virginia’s 4th- and 8th-graders by an impeccable and unbiased source, The Washington Post, Virginian-Pilot, Richmond Times-Dispatch and Virginia Mercury did something extraordinary: they reported the Youngkin administration’s spin on the data with minimal pushback.

I’ve not seen anything like it in Youngkin’s entire term in office. The newspapers touched bases with the usual partisan sources opposed to the Governor, as they should have, but they gave little play to their cavils and caveats. Given the terrible reality of Virginia’s K-12 educational meltdown, there’s not much the defenders of the educational status quo can say.

Each publication highlighted Youngkin’s charges that the actions of the McAuliffe and Northam administrations — particularly the lowering of school accreditation standards and state Standards of Learning (SOL) scoring — contributed to the downturn in the NAEP scores. And they gave prominent attention to his proposed remedies, particularly a suggestion that school systems tap some $2 billion in unspent federal COVID-relief funds to hire reading tutors.

Perhaps mainstream news outlets were just caught off guard and will resume their role as Youngkin antagonists. But I think Virginia might be turning a corner in perceptions about K-12 education. The NAEP results were so crystal clear that the awful reality described by the Youngkin administration (and harped upon by Bacon’s Rebellion) can no longer be denied.

While average English and math scores for 4th- and 8th-graders in the national assessment declined substantially across most of the country, Virginia 4th graders led the way, declining more than every other state (except where it tied with Maryland for biggest decline in math scores). Virginia has tumbled from one of the top performers in the nation to middle of the pack. While COVID accounted for much of the damage, NAEP data show that the relative decline started in 2017, before the pandemic.

The Old Dominion has squandered one of its greatest competitive advantages as a place to live and work, and Youngkin was none too bashful about putting the responsibility where it belonged.

When administration foes were quoted, their responses were remarkably lame. Reports the RTD:

Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, head of the state Senate’s Education and Health Committee, said now is not the time to point fingers at those who are no longer in leadership.

“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,” Lucas said in a statement.

It’s no surprise that Lucas, who has consistently championed the policies that have ruined public education, doesn’t want to “point fingers.” While Northam and McAuliffe are history, she remains one of the most powerful politicians in Virginia. If there were any justice in the world, the electorate of Portsmouth, where educational outcomes have nose-dived like a kamikaze bomber, would come to its senses and toss her out of office.

Then there was this platitude from Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, a school teacher who is an occasional voice of lucidity in the Democratic Party:

The General Assembly has underfunded public schools since the great recession in 2009…. You had for over a decade a harshly GOP-controlled General Assembly, where school funding was kind of at the back of the bus.

VanValkenburg neglected to mention that Virginia NAEP scores somehow increased despite budget cutbacks after the 2007-09 recession and began declining in 2017 after much of the funding had been restored.

By the way, whining about funding cutbacks occurs in every state. But not every state has seen a Virginia-magnitude collapse in educational performance over the past four years.

Bringing the budget picture up to date, let’s see what the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) has to say about educational spending in Virginia in the current biennial budget:

The budget increases direct aid funding for K-12 schools by $2.9 billion over the biennium and includes $224.1 million in fiscal 2023 and $505.5 million in fiscal 2024 to support the state’s share of a 5.0 percent salary increase each year for teachers and support positions.

Notably absent from the press coverage was any quote from the Virginia Education Association, perhaps Youngkin’s most vociferous critic. The RTD mentioned the VEA, which represents 40,000 teachers and educators, only in passing: “In a Monday news release, the Virginia Education Association criticized the governor for politicizing test results.”

That’s it. If the VEA presented any evidence to back up its accusation of politicization, the RTD didn’t deem it worthy of reprinting, and neither did any other news outlet.

I could not find the statement on the VEA website. The latest statement, dated Sept. 26, addressed Virginia’s 2022-23 school accreditation rankings. Said President James J. Fedderman at the time:

These ratings show the resilience of our schools, educators, parents, and communities in working together as we recover from learning loss brought on from the pandemic…. The Governor is now back peddling and desperately trying to find something to discredit our schools to advance his privatization agenda, instead of facing the truth that Virginia remains one of the top public education systems in the nation.

Resilience of our schools? One of the top education systems in the nation? Oops. Welcome to reality, Mr. Fedderman. The only one who has been discredited is you. And by the way, Youngkin’s “privatization agenda” is a fantasy. There wasn’t one peep about privatization in his recommendations on how to salvage Virginia’s schools.

Fedderman, Lucas and their allies brought this educational calamity to Virginia. The first step to undoing the calamity will entail repealing the changes they put into place.


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58 responses to “The Virginia Media’s Astonishing Response to the NAEP Scores”

  1. dave schutz Avatar
    dave schutz

    VEA President “James J. Fedderman at the time:

    “These ratings show the resilience of our schools, educators, parents, and communities in working together as we recover from learning loss brought on from the pandemic…. The Governor is now back peddling and desperately”

    VEA might want to look for a president who knows the difference between ‘peddle’ and ‘pedal’, as a starter.

  2. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Youngkin should shoot for this:
    https://rma.edu/portrait-of-a-graduate/

    Citizens spend billions every year on education in Virginia. We should demand something we can be proud of in return for that investment.

    It will be another 14 months before Youngkin and school boards can enact significant reform. The 2023 state and local election is going to be a big deal.

  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Northsm WAIVED accreditation process for 2020 and 2021 school years. He did not lower the standards. Geez, youse guys just love the lie.

    https://wydaily.com/news/2022/09/29/most-virginia-schools-remain-fully-accredited-despite-student-testing-declines/

    1. Lefty665 Avatar

      Standards? We don’t need no steenkin’ standards. Are waived standards profoundly lowered standards?

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Those equating the “cut” to a standard clearly don’t understand testing. Accreditation is a different animal.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          but conflating is so much fun!

        2. Lefty665 Avatar

          They both set standards of performance, but for different things. Accreditation for institutions and SOLs for students. Lowering the cut scores changes the acceptable achievement standard for a student to “pass”, Dropping accreditation requirements means that there are no thresholds a school must achieve to “pass”.

          Additionally a school in which an inadequate proportion of the students fail to exceed cut levels has failed to meet standards of educating its students right along with the students.

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Lowering the cut depended on the changes to the test.

          2. Lefty665 Avatar

            ?? Help pls.

          3. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            The test was changed. The questions changed. The content changed. Perhaps even the number of questions and the score per question changed. Therefore, the cut would necessarily change too.
            To assume the cut lowering from 26 to 21, lowers the passing grade is just wrong.

          4. Lefty665 Avatar

            Was there analysis of the impact of the changes other than just the lowering of the cut scores?

            Virginia’s SOL pass rates went up as its NAEP scores were going down. That would appear to indicate that Virginia’s standards were lowered.

            Sorry I’m late to the party on this.

          5. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Something got easier, something got harder, but you can’t change the questions and then claim ” Nothing changed.”

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      Indeed. It’s like a contest to see which one can lie the most!

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Can’t always call it lying if they also lack understanding. This has been enlightening. I now realize that Matt and Kathleen are not knowledgeable about standardized testing and can therefore be discounted.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          Maybe further explanation from them. Both are in the field and , for me, more reliable and believable than the commenters who are not.

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            They are treating the tests the same and the cut line as equal. The SOL is a scored test, 0 to 600 with 400 passing. A 400 doesn’t mean 66 percent of the questions were correct. It means a combination of scores on a combination of questions totalled 400.
            Example, 10 true-false questions. On one test they are 2 points each. A 10 means you got 5 right. On another test 5 questions were 3 points and 5 were one point each.. Now a 10 depends on which questions too.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            Yes. But isn’t the point on lowered cut scores that kids that normally wouldn’t “pass” , do?

          3. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Is it?

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            if kids are passed that should not be… it’s a problem – not just for Northam…. but his successor, no?

          5. LarrytheG Avatar

            Yes. But isn’t the point on lowered cut scores that kids that normally wouldn’t “pass” , do?

    3. Kathleen Smith Avatar
      Kathleen Smith

      Nancy, the cut scores were lowered before the pandemic. Sad.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        You have a link, right?

        1. Matt Hurt Avatar

          Yes sir. The BOE lowered the math cut scores with the latest test that has been administered since spring 2019, and the reading cut scores with the new test administered since spring of 2021. VDOE used to publish this information in a readily accessible format, but that is no longer available. To access primary documents, you have to dig through BOE meeting minutes to find it. That information has been aggregated in these sheets.

          https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1nBjt6SgOaFypuWoJFcbxTqBKBogOHxIZ0SkDb1_6d4I/edit?usp=sharing

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            That sheet has all the provenance of a $3 bill.

          2. Matt Hurt Avatar

            OK

          3. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Well, in the world of publication one is required to cite sources and methods.

            According to your own statement the test was changed, as it has been at least once before in 2012. Different test, different questions, different proficiency results. The testing agencies design various questions to elicit certain results. This will take a certain number of responses to certain questions to ascertain. It is not arbitrary.

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            I’d agree. so where the stuff came from and if the average person cannot get to it , and that data is being cited , not a good thing.

          5. Matt Hurt Avatar

            Yes sir, the BOE is required by the General Assembly to review/revise their Standards of Learning every seven years. Sometimes they just reorganize things, and sometimes they adjust the rigor. They increased the rigor in math which was first tested in 2012 and English in 2013. The tests changed again in Math (2019) and Reading (2021) with no real change in rigor on either. Every time they change the test, the BOE must set cut scores. They did lower them significantly with the newest math and reading tests.

            If you take the time to review the BOE discussions when they lowered the cut scores, you will get the feeling that the decision was arbitrary. Certainly they elicited responses from teachers, but I could discern no valid argument for lowering those cut scores other than the feeling of some that the test was too hard. Please keep in mind that the BOE had already received information that Virginia’s standards were already lower than everyone else’s based on an analysis of NAEP data- for whatever that’s worth.

          6. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            We’re fraught with feelings here. You even claim that your evaluation is based on their discussions of their feelings. Hardly a critical analysis there. You claim no change in rigor and yet their claim is it was too hard.
            Without an A-B comparison of the tests, a list of the objective concepts and the scoring of the critical questions, locking on the “cut” is, well, meaningless as a measure of the changes in standards.

            Ultimately we are left with only our national ranking on which to rely since our yoy internal measuring apparently sucks.

          7. Matt Hurt Avatar

            It’s not a change in the standards, it’s a change in our standard for what is considered passing. For example, when you compare the 2009 Math SOL Curriculum Frameworks to the 2016 Math SOL Curriculum Frameworks, kids are expected to do the same things in the same grade levels. Therefore, no change in rigor. However, when we lower the bar for what is considered passing, our standard of performance (or our expectation for what we expect our students to know, do, and understand) is also lowered.

            When we lower expectations, we get lower performance. When we expect less of kids, very few rise above those expectations. This is a very human trait.

          8. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            OTOH, if you change the test and the number of wrong answers increases you are left with at least two choices for why.

          9. Matt Hurt Avatar

            The test questions were the same. The state uses the same bank of questions each year, only sprinkling in a few here and there each year. They’re called new tests because they’re based on the new standards. What used to be called one standard was just shifted in the mix and is now designated as another standard. The required skills are the same. The test questions are simply remapped to whatever that skill is now designated in the new standards. Therefore, we’re left with only the one answer- changes in expectations for proficiency.

          10. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            I’ll find it for you and post. I had a devil of a time finding it the last time I quoted this, I have it somewhere. Check back here on Wed afternoon.

          11. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            See below

          12. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            I await with worm on tongue (baited breath).

          13. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            Above are the postings from the board meeting and a description of the process. You can see that the shots recommendation was much lower than what the committee recommended. This was a serious issue that many educators did not agree with. Yes the test changed, but the recommendations from the committee were not considered.

          14. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            Kind of ugly. Sorry Matt.

          15. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Truth is.

          16. LarrytheG Avatar

            Why is it this way? Can Youngkin not fix this?

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        You do realize the TEST CHANGED, right?? Different test different questions different proficiency measures.

        1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
          Kathleen Smith

          See above. Recommendations by the committee were not considered.

    4. Kathleen Smith Avatar
      Kathleen Smith

      He waived the accreditation, not the cut score changes. Only one test cycle was waived.

  4. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    Governor Youngkin has two choices: Change the accountability system put in place to hide racism or deploy a charter school agenda. He is only going to be able to pass one, not both. Which will the democrats passively agree to engage in discussion? The former not the latter. Just don’t beat up educators in the process.

    1. Lefty665 Avatar

      Please help me understand. What is “the accountability system put in place to hide racism” ?

      That seems sort of the reverse of how we usually think about “accountability”.

      1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
        Kathleen Smith

        Good question. The cut scores in reading were lowered in 2020, math in 2019. Meaning more kids of color passed the test, closing the achievement gap. It was artificial.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          He could increase it, right?

          then the pressure would be on actually getting the scores up and how to do that?

          And if he wants “charters”, I’m on board as long as they have the same transparency and accountability as public schools. What do we do when the Charter also “fails” with the same ED demographic? Attack the administrators and teachers?

          1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            Only the state board can change the cut scores and it must be before the start of the year.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            I assume Youngkin has influence over the state board and also he can make an explicit statement as to his intentions – which I believe he SHOULD do if he is going to weigh in on the “catastrophic” scores.

            For me, if he coupled the two, it would encourage my support even though he is GOP and obviously partisan.

            I can swallow partisan if he actually takes action. If not, then partisan without action confirms my suspicions about his motives.

          3. Kathleen Smith Avatar
            Kathleen Smith

            Actually, before the start of the assessment cycle, late Oct.

        2. Lefty665 Avatar

          Tku, I didn’t know why cut scores were lowered. I was late to the party and missed the setup.

          Equity, duh, shoulda guessed. Woke racism hurts black kids by lowering standards. It’s insulting, you can’t measure up so we’ll pander to you by dumbing down, dress it up as equity and blame it on white racism. Be a lot better if we focused on teaching all kids reading, writing and math.

          1. Matt Adams Avatar
            Matt Adams

            Hey man, “White Savior’s” gotta “White Savior”.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      I don’t think Youngkin has as much latitude as some think. If he REALLY wants effective change, he has to work WITH the Dems AND the school systems. Otherwise, he’s really just Santorum LITE and we know what he is really about. Existing Charter schools in Virginia are not world-beaters in any way, shape or form. They tend to be one of two types. The exclusive types that cater to well-to-do and have a tiny percent of low-income students and the other are charters that do have low income – and .. not so good scores either.

  5. Lefty665 Avatar

    “Fedderman, Lucas and their allies brought this educational calamity to Virginia. The first step to undoing the calamity will entail repealing
    the changes they put into place.”

    That’s a good place to start and part of doing that is house cleaning at VDoE.

    “Virginia NAEP scores somehow increased despite budget cutbacks after the 2007-09 recession and began declining in 2017 after much of the funding had been restored.”

    From the graphs presented yesterday 2017 was at a 2013-2017 high point for reading. In 2017 math was the clear high point of Virginia achievement. Those scores look like 2017 was the peak of Virginia’s performance. Scores declined precipitously after 2017 not in 2017.

    We went to hell in a hand basket. It appears the dramatic collapse started pre covid, so while a convenient fall guy that is not the boogeyman. Are there specifics of what changed, and when?

    Edit: looks like your subsequent post on VDoE’s foray into virtual education tells part of the story.

  6. Ruckweiler Avatar
    Ruckweiler

    What has been lost is any form of rigor in the classroom. However, too many of the kids can rattle off many, many of the so-called “lyrics” of rap talking. All this arguing over “standards” misses the point that the kids are getting farther and farther behind which will greatly impact the country when they take over running the nation and we’re doing it to ourselves. God help us.

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