Virginia Test Scores Better than You Think

“Va. scores above average on national report card,” reads the headline in this morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Virginia’s fourth-and eight-graders are doing slightly better in math and reading than their peers around the country,” continues the text of the story.

But dig into the numbers in “the Nation’s Report Card” published by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and there is some encouraging news on the racial disparity front.

The NAEP reports a composite figure reflecting the percentage of students in each state whose scores are classified as “below basic,” “basic, ” “proficient” and “advanced.” The average reading scores for fourth graders is 226 in Virginia vs. 217 nationally, suggesting that Virginia overall is significantly above the national average. The math score for 4th graders is 240 for Virginia vs. 237 nationally, suggesting that we’re modestly above average. The 8th grade differentials are comparable.

But there are some interesting trends within the broader numbers. Minorities in Virginia — African-Americans and Hispanics — outperform their peers nationally by a wider margin than whites do. For example:

4th Grade Reading Score
Performance Gap Compared to Peers in Other States

Whites……….. +5
Blacks………… +9
Hispanics…… +9

(The performance gaps are comparable for the most part for math and 8th grade scores. I won’t bore you with the details. Look them up here.)

Another way of looking at the performances differences is to compare the size of the racial gap in performance in Virginia and the United States.

4th Grade Reading Score
Racial Gaps Nationally vs. Virginia


Nationally……….. 29 points below whites
Virginia…………… 26 points below whites


Nationally………. 27 points below whites
Virginia…………… 15 points below whites

The disparity in scores between whites and blacks is modestly smaller in Virginia than in the rest of the country, and startlingly smaller between whites and Hispanics.

Perhaps the most appropriate measure of comparison for Virginia, however, is not with other American states but with foreign countries. There’s a global marketplace for employees with education and skills. Unfortunately, the performance gap may well be the other way around — how far behind the Poles and South Koreans are we? That’s where our attention really needs to be.

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  1. Although I agree with you that as Virginians (and Americans) we need to be concerned about how our kids compare to kids across the world, I still think a 13% disparity between black kids and white kids is disgraceful.

    We need to fix that first.

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    Jim: the global comparison in on point because in lieu of a comparative nationalized education system, the states have to be the prime actors in the preparation of US human capital for international market competition. Given our federalist system and the pressures of capitalism, states should look at this as an opportunity and not merely carp about needing more help from Washington.

    As for racial gap, I would also suggest that we start isolating racial disparities by class also (ie. economic, family status). The way the stats are tabulated now with one group v. another masks in-group differences. I would surmise that if we looked at black kids in certain regions, certain income strata, and certain specific districts, there’d be more complexity there. I know that in NC, for example, SAT scores between blacks and whites were closer than national averages due to similar economic levels. Even in Richmond, with a heavily-black district, SOL scores are up on a broad level.

    Nonetheless, the aggregate scores go to a point I’ve been making for a while – Black Virginians are a bit better off than their national brethren, and that has major political implications.

    — Conaway

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