Governor Youngkin Releases Education Report Finding Sliding Education Performance and Lowered Standards in Virginia 

Governor Youngkin Releases Education Report Finding Sliding Education Performance and Lowered Standards in Virginia 

Youngkin Administration to raise standards, improve transparency,

and empower parents and teachers

RICHMOND, VA – Today Governor Glenn Youngkin received the Department of Education’s report “Our Commitment to Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence for All Students.” The education report builds upon Governor Youngkin’s direction in Executive Order One issued on his first day in office. The Governor affirmed his guiding principles to address troubling data trends and outlined policy recommendations to restore excellence in education in Virginia.

“Virginia’s public schools have long enjoyed a reputation for academic excellence,” said Governor Youngkin. “But the data in this report demonstrates that Virginia’s student achievement gaps are disturbing and cannot be ignored. This report documents a clear and sobering lesson on the consequences for students when state leaders lower academic standards and dismantle accountability.”
The 33-page report from the Department of Education details how state policy choices and priorities over the last decade have resulted in lower student achievement in reading and mathematics, wider achievement gaps, reduced transparency, and eroding parent confidence in the Commonwealth’s public schools.
“Virginians deserve to know the truth about how our children are doing,” said Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera. “Under Governor Youngkin’s leadership, we aim to be the most transparent and accountable state in the nation, while empowering parents and teachers with the knowledge and choices to do what’s best for each learner.”
Key findings in the report include the following:
  • Virginia now has the lowest proficiency standards in reading and mathematics in the nation, resulting in the wide “honesty gaps” between the performance of students on state Standards of Learning tests and performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
  • Despite statistically significant declines in the reading performance of Virginia students on the 2019 NAEP and on state assessments, the Board of Education voted in 2020 to lower the proficiency standard on all elementary, middle school, and high school SOL reading tests.
  • The Board of Education’s Standards of Accreditation — once an accountability model for other states — now de-emphasize grade-level proficiency in reading and mathematics and mask wide achievement gaps.
  • Pre-pandemic results from college entrance examinations taken by 2019 Virginia high graduates show wide disparities in college readiness, especially in mathematics.
  • Last fall, 42% of Virginia second-graders scored below the benchmark on the Commonwealth’s early literacy screening assessment.
  • Homeschooling increased by 56% in 2020-2021 as the parents of 59,638 school-age children chose not to send their children to public schools. Despite the return to in-person instruction this year, the parents of 55,769 students chose homeschooling over enrolling their children in a public school. In addition, 5,828 students have transferred from Virginia public schools to in-state private schools since the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.
“I want to stress that this report is not an indictment of our teachers, principals, and other school leaders. They have worked tirelessly over the last few years under extraordinary conditions and circumstances,” said Superintendent Jillian Balow. “But local decision-making inevitably reflects priorities and policy choices determined at the state level. I am committed to working with Governor Youngkin, the state Board of Education, and the General Assembly to reorder Virginia’s K-12 priorities, raise expectations for all of our students, and create an accreditation system that is transparent, honest, and that prioritizes grade-level proficiency.”
The report also identifies Governor Youngkin’s guiding principles in education that will guide the work of his Administration in restoring excellence in education:
  • Establish and maintain high expectations for students, schools, and ourselves.
  • Advance parent and teacher empowerment to best serve students in partnership.
  • Demand zero-tolerance for discrimination in education and beyond.
  • Foster innovation in all education environments.
  • Provide transparency and accountability so that each child is seen and receives what they need to succeed.
  • Ensure post-secondary readiness so that all learners can succeed in life.
  • Protect and nurture freedom of speech and inquiry to ensure every student is taught how to think, not what to think.
“The future prosperity of our Commonwealth depends on how well we prepare our students,” said Governor Youngkin. “Working alongside parents, teachers, and policymakers, we will restore excellence in education and ensure that all students have access to quality education opportunities that prepare them for success in our workplaces, our communities, and our democracy.”
The complete “Our Commitment to Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence for All Students” report is available here. Superintendent Balow’s presentation deck is available here.

What They’re Saying on Youngkin’s Education Plan to Raise Standards, Improve Transparency, and Empower Parents and Teachers

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Former Governor Doug Wilder speaks to Governor Glenn Youngkin after the release of Virginia’s education report in the Patrick Henry Building on Thursday, May 19, 2022. Official Photo by Christian Martinez, Office of Governor Glenn Youngkin.
Today, Governor Youngkinreleased the Department of Education report: Our Commitment To Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence For All Students. Leaders across the country sounded off on the findings in the report.
Commonwealth Executive Leadership
“We have wised up to the dangerous rhetoric others use to divide us when all parents want to do is decide where their children should go to school. The data is clear: our children are not learning and this is a national security crisis.” -Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears (former Vice President of the Virginia Board of Education)
“As the son of an immigrant from a socialist country, I understand the importance of an education that fosters free speech, independent thinking, and creates an environment where every child has the opportunity to pursue their dreams. The recommendations contained in this report will ensure our K-12 education system supports and prepares every child for success and empowers both parents and teachers.” -Attorney General Jason Miyares
“We can’t get back to having the best education unless we have the cooperation of everybody from the school superintendent, the school boards, and parent-teacher associations. I love what Governor Youngkin said, he is giving parents back the right opportunity to speak. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t believe in Governor Youngkin.”-Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder (1990-1994)
“A free high quality education is what the Virginia Constitution guarantees to the young people of the Commonwealth. It is the gift that creates equal access to the American Dream. Today Governor Glenn Youngkin and Education Secretary Amy Guidera presented a comprehensive, data analytics driven critique our current ability to deliver on that guarantee. The incontrovertible measurements show we are falling woefully short on both the expectations and performance. The governor and his team have set a seven-prong vision for correcting this systemic problem. His powerful combination of setting high expectations, empowering parents and teachers, demanding innovation and transparency, and evaluating individual student job and career readiness, will provide a new day of achievement for young Virginians. I thank Governor Youngkin for his servant leadership and relentless pursuit of providing the very best education for the future leaders of Virginia and America.” – Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (2010 – 2014)
Leaders Across the Commonwealth
“While Petersburg is just miles away from Richmond, sometimes we feel like we are a world away given our challenges as a school division and community. I am grateful that the commitments made by state officials and the VDOE will shine a light on our students who do not always have the same access to opportunities in school as other students in Virginia.” – Superintendent of Petersburg City Public Schools Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin
“There is a misconception that superintendents and school systems don’t want data about student performance. This is not true. Now, more than ever, this information is critical in our plans to accelerate learning after the pandemic. As Superintendent of Stafford County Public Schools, I rely on honest data to best serve more than 30,000 learners and more than 4,000 educators. Diminished data transparency makes my job harder. I am encouraged by efforts to recommit to high standards and excellence, and I look forward to working in partnership with our community and my colleagues across the Commonwealth as we prepare every learner for work and life.” – Superintendent of Stafford County Public Schools Thomas Taylor
“The report released today emphasizes high expectations as we continue to support students, parents, and educators. And as we support our students, we must acknowledge that each one is unique and learns differently. That is why we must continue to evaluate our methods, recognize the growth our students make, and celebrate their achievements. At Louisa County Public Schools, I am surrounded by an incredible team of educators who inspire me with their determination, innovation, hard work, and positivity. I am confident that in Louisa County and across Virginia, educators, students, parents, and communities will continue to work diligently together to ensure that Virginia schools become the model for what public education should look like nationwide.” – Superintendent of Louisa County Public Schools Doug Straley
“Virginia is for lovers of liberty, learning, and opportunity. However, not all Virginians receive the quality education they deserve and that taxpayers should expect. To make matters worse, too many students we label as proficient will become frustrated when they have to face the brutal truth that we underprepared them for competitive jobs, salaries, and entrepreneurial endeavors. Thus, Virginia must also be for lovers of academic transparency. This report, sobering as it is, is a first step on a pathway towards a brighter future for all children and adult learners.”- Virginia Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson (2010-2011)
“When Virginia focuses on rigorous academic standards and provides support for meeting those standards, our students, teachers, principals, and administrators rise to meet the challenge. I am confident Virginia will regain its national ranking in education when students, educators, and schools are held accountable for achieving high standards and parents are included in policy decisions involving their children. Historically, the pendulum on educational policy tends to swing when student achievement spirals downward. Achievement data in Virginia suggests it is time to reverse the pendulum. Our students deserve no less.”- Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Patricia I. Wright (2008-2014)
“This report opens the door for an honest and long overdue discussion on what is reasonable and appropriate regarding testing and accountability at the local and state level. Historically, this has not been a partisan issue, and it should not be today. There are no easy solutions. Success has always depended on bringing people together to understand these issues and to agree on the appropriate path. In the past, Virginia was recognized nationally as a leader in student achievement and progress. Unfortunately, over the past decade, we’ve gone backwards. This is painfully clear in the data from every state and national measure of student progress and achievement. This report is a good first step for Governor Youngkin and his administration to provide critical leadership to help Virginia’s students, parents and educators. The state Board of Education, school division leaders, and other stakeholders have a golden opportunity for conversations that can address important needs and refocus state policy on students and their readiness for today’s world.” -President of the Virginia Board of Education Dr. Kirk T. Schroder (1998-2002)
“There is no path to a more inclusive Virginia that doesn’t involve dramatic improvements to our education system. This report pulls back the curtain to lay bare just how far we have to go to provide a consistently high standard of excellence for all students across the commonwealth – especially for low-income, Black, and Hispanic students. It’s uncomfortable but vital reading for all Virginians and tees up a long overdue conversation about our schools that should be bipartisan, forward looking, and solution oriented.” – Member of the Virginia Board of Education Andrew Rotherham (2005-2009), Co-Founder and Partner of Bellwether Education
“The Commonwealth of Virginia is known for having a well-trained and highly educated workforce. Our economy requires a strong educational system to assist every individual. This report identifies challenges in our K-12 system. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce looks forward to partnering with Governor Youngkin and Secretary Guidera to address the challenges pointed out by this report.” – President of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce Barry DuVal
“At Virginia Learns we envision a day when all Virginia students receive an education that prepares them for the world and workforce, including learning experiences and environments that empower them to thrive in childhood and become positive contributors in their communities. To achieve this we share Superintendent Balow’s commitment that we must all work together to ensure high expectations and excellence for all learners. Our pledge is to bring together business and education leaders around these shared interests in education and a common agenda to modernize Virginia public schools so that all students gain the knowledge, durable skills, and experiences to be successful now and in the future. All children, regardless of where they live, deserve this from the adults and the data are clear that the most effective way to ensure this occurs is by giving educators the respect and support they need and deserve.”- President and CEO of Virginia Learns Robert Nomberg
Leaders Across the Nation 
“This report and detailed gameplan is spot on. The starting point must be honesty about where we stand, and not brushing under the rug the seriousness of the learning loss our kids have suffered. Governor Youngkin’s call for full transparency with parents, aggressive interventions when needed, and higher standards throughout are exactly where all Governors should be leading their states. I especially salute the call for unbiased, robust history and civics education and to support teachers with the training they need. With its high standards, vision, and thoughtfulness, it is reminiscent of other great Virginians–the founders of our Great Republic.” -U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. William J. Bennett (1985-1988)
“The Youngkin Administration’s students-first approach to education is a welcomed change, not only for our students and families, but for our state’s economic future. By prioritizing parental control, college and career readiness, early literacy, and ensuring the education system is held accountable, all of our students will have an opportunity to flourish throughout their K-12 journey. I applaud the Governor and his Administration for prioritizing education and releasing this important plan.”-U.S. House Majority Leader (2011-2014) and U.S. Representative Eric Cantor (2001-2014)
“Governor Glenn Youngkin’s education plan lays out an important agenda that serves the interests of all Virginia students by empowering parents, focusing on early literacy, improving college and career pathways, setting high expectations, and making Virginia’s education system more transparent and accountable to parents.” -Florida Governor Jeb Bush (1999-2007)
“The extent of learning losses in Virginia during the pandemic, and their disproportionate impact on more vulnerable groups, are hugely concerning. A commitment to remedying these differential losses is extremely important for children.” -Brown University Economics Professor Dr. Emily Oster
“Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s education plan lays a foundation for improvement by focusing on the fundamentals: Putting students first, providing families with microgrants, raising expectations, strengthened accountability measures, and implementing the recently passed Virginia Literacy Act. ExcelinEd looks forward to working with the Administration’s efforts to make this vision and plan a reality for the benefit of Virginia’s students.” -CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education Patricia Levesque