ARLINGTON, Va. (7News) — Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin joined his Secretary of Education and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction on Monday for a news conference about the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the 'Nation's Report Card'.
"When we see these numbers today, just like the numbers we have seen from tests taken over the last three years, it upsets us. And it should," Youngkin said. "This should be a call to action."
SEE ALSO: NAEP reading & math test scores fell across the US during pandemic. How did the DMV do?
To view more details from the NAEP results for Virginia, click here.
NAEP also provided the following summary statements on its website:
Fourth Grade Math: "In 2022, the average score of fourth-grade students in Virginia was 236. This was not significantly different from the average score of 235 for public school students in the nation. The average score for students in Virginia in 2022 (236) was lower than their average score in 2019 (247) and was higher than their average score in 2000 (230)."
Fourth Grade Reading: "In 2022, the average score of fourth-grade students in Virginia was 214. This was not significantly different from the average score of 216 for public school students in the nation. The average score for students in Virginia in 2022 (214) was lower than their average score in 2019 (224) and was not significantly different from their average score in 1998 (217)."
Eighth Grade Math: "In 2022, the average score of eighth-grade students in Virginia was 279. This was higher than the average score of 273 for public school students in the nation. The average score for students in Virginia in 2022 (279) was lower than their average score in 2019 (287) and was higher than their average score in 2000 (275)."
Eighth Grade Reading: "In 2022, the average score of eighth-grade students in Virginia was 260. This was not significantly different from the average score of 259 for public school students in the nation. The average score for students in Virginia in 2022 (260) was not significantly different from their average score in 2019 (262) and was lower than their average score in 1998 (266)."
State Superintendent Jillian Balow said Virginia saw "the largest decline in the nation" in fourth grade reading and math test scores when compared with 2017 scores.
"For the first time in 30 years, Virginia's fourth graders are average. Let's start with fourth grade reading. There is no sugar coating what you see here. After decades of performing above the national average, our fourth graders are now at the national mean. Only 32 percent scored proficient or better on the 2022 NAEP, compared with 43 percent in 2017," Balow said.
Monday's data release marked NAEP's first such assessment since 2019. NAEP found similar downward trends in "a majority of states" when it comes to math and reading scores of fourth and eighth graders during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The results show the profound toll on student learning during the pandemic, as the size and scope of the declines are the largest ever in mathematics,” National Center for Education Statistics Commissioner Peggy Carr said in a statement. “The results also underscore the importance of instruction and the role of schools in both students’ academic growth and their overall wellbeing. It’s clear we all need to come together—policymakers and community leaders at every level—as partners in helping our educators, children, and families succeed.”
But in Virginia, Youngkin and his top education officials said the decline in student test scores can't be blamed entirely on COVID.
"Our nation's children have experienced catastrophic learning loss, and Virginia students are among the hardest hit. We also must clearly recognize the underpinnings to this catastrophic performance were decisions made long before we've ever heard of COVID-19," Youngkin said.
Balow echoed that message, instead blaming Youngkin's Democratic predecessors.
"For eight years, the previous two administrations systematically lowered standards for schools and lowered expectations for students," Balow said. "Lower standards, regardless of how they're marketed, never produce better outcomes for students."
Youngkin said that in the business world, results like the ones outlined in this year's NAEP report would come with consequences.
"In the business world, if this was your report card, there would be an immediate change in management. You would get fired," he said. "And I think that's exactly what voters did last November."
But those statements from Youngkin and the State Superintendent prompted criticism from some Democrats and educators, who accused the governor of playing politics with student test scores.
"None of this is specific to Virginia," Virginia Senate Democrats wrote in a tweet about learning loss and NAEP. "It's all over our country. Blaming previous administrations isn't the way to move forward. Do better."
Virginia Senator Louise Lucas, Chair of the Senate Education and Health Committee, also had strong words for the governor.
"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, '' Senator Lucas said in a statement. “While Youngkin is trying to prove he is fit for national leadership, he isn't dealing with the problems in his Commonwealth. We have staffing shortages in schools across Virginia, students aren't receiving the proper resources to set every child up for success, and many schools need funding for structural improvements to increase the quality of education. Now is not the time to point fingers at those who are no longer in leadership."
Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Senator Mamie Locke also released a statement:
“Governor Youngkin would like Virginians to believe that equitable measures in Virginia's education somehow lowered the standard of learning in Virginia. He is once again using our youth as bait in his political games,” Locke said. “The facts are simple, Democrats have made significant investments in education, while the Youngkin administration diverts funds from our public schools. The Administration's total lack of understanding of public education and what it takes to build an inclusive system is once again demonstrated by his remarks today.”
7News spoke to the president of the Virginia Education Association, who voiced similar frustration with the governor's response to Virginia's NAEP results.
"The Youngkin administration took the opportunity to politicize the results and to blame his predessors," said Dr. James Fedderman with the VEA. "Education should not be about party affiliation."
During Monday's news conference, the governor also outlined a seven-step plan he called "Our Commitment to Virginia’s Children":
To read the details of that plan, click here.
"We must raise expectations for ourselves and our students, raising not only the floor but also the ceiling," Youngkin said. "Reversing the failed policies of the last two administrations, I am directing the Virginia Board of Education to raise our SOL [Standards of Learning] cut scores from the lowest in the nation to the highest in the nation by the time our students take SOL exams by next spring."
Fedderman said he feels the governor's plan fails to address the real challenges that schools and educators in Virginia are facing.
“The commitment fails to offer a dime of new spending, it just points to existing spending," Fedderman said. "And it calls for completely insufficient approaches such as requesting tutor volunteers and pointing to free online learning video platforms. Furthermore, the administration calls for arbitrary changes to SOL cut scores and our school accreditation system without pointing to a shred of evidence that this would conceivably lead to any impacts on student outcomes."
7News reached out to Governor Youngkin's office to ask for his response to the VEA and Democrats' claim that he is politicizing Virginia's NAEP test results.
A spokesperson referred us back to a statement he made during Monday's news conference: "In the business world, if this was your report card, you would be fired. And that’s exactly what voters did last year.”
To learn more about NAEP and the 2022 'Nation's Report Card', click here.