Education

Virginia’s Education Department Finds Public Schools Failed Minority Students Amid Equity Emphasis

REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Chrissy Clark Education Reporter
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Virginia public school students are failing to hit basic proficiency standards at the same time the state saw a “rhetorical emphasis on equity,” according to a newly released report from the state’s Department of Education.

A data analysis conducted by the Virginia Department of Education found that education gaps exist in all aspects of K-12 learning. Only 33% of Virginia eighth-graders and 38% of fourth-graders are proficient in reading as of 2019.

Students are behind in readiness for college as well. According to the report, 45% of all Virginia high school students were not “college-ready” in the math section of the SAT, including 76% of black students and 56% of Hispanic students.

Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said that problematic education gaps existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, though school closures and the pandemic worsened the gap.

Balow dubbed the learning loss from the pandemic “worse than feared,” according to the report. Black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students saw approximately 20-point drops in reading state-wide exam scores. Just 45% of black third-grade students passed reading assessments in 2021, compared to 61% in 2017. A mere 43% of Hispanic third-graders passed the exam in 2021, compared to 66% in four years prior. And just 45% of economically disadvantaged third-graders passed the exam in 2021, compared to 62% in 2017.

The department’s report also found that in 2022 “more than 21,000 Virginia kindergartners are at serious risk of reading failure in the absence of intervention.”

Balow’s report claims that expectations for Virginia’s students are “too low,” and claims that Virginia’s education leaders lowered expectations and benchmarks for school accreditation. These low standards show a gap between federal achievement standards and state achievement standards.

Amid public school failures, Virginia is seeing a widening distrust between parents and the public education system. The state notes that the number of home-schooled students increased by 90% between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years.

Virginia had approximately 38,000 students that were homeschooled in 2019, and by the 2020-2021 school year the number had grown to nearly 60,000. The state’s Department of Education blamed, in part, prolonged school shutdowns.

“School shutdowns and prolonged virtual instruction had a devastating impact on learning and, as a result, led to an overall lack of confidence in the education system,” the report reads. “Thousands of families have ‘voted with their feet’ by leaving Virginia’s public schools since the beginning of the pandemic.”

The state’s low performance report comes as school administrators and educators statewide insist on teaching about the core tenets of critical race theory, the ideology that filters virtually all interactions and subjects through the lens of race. (RELATED: Here Are The Critical Race Theory Programs Gov. Glenn Youngkin Has Rescinded)

Balow said, “It is noteworthy that the rhetorical emphasis on equity coincided with the widened gaps in student achievement.”