Board of Education rejects emergency timetable for school accountability reform in Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Governor Glenn Youngkin’s push to change the way school performance is measured in Virginia was met with skepticism at a recent Board of Education meeting. Many members expressed concerns about the acceleration of the timeline for a plan that still lacked detail.

Last month, Yongkin announced seven steps to address what he called “catastrophic” test scores, including reforming the state’s school accreditation and accountability system. Former board members have been accused of lowering accreditation standards.

“So far they’ve basically been meaningless,” Yongkin said during an Oct. 24 news conference. “When you lower expectations, when you actually tell people things that aren’t true, when you expect less of our children than they are capable of doing, you get worse results.”

During an interview last month, state superintendent Jillian Ballou said the Board of Education would take urgent action.

“We’re going to fast-track the fast track,” Ballou said. “It must be done immediately.”

But the Yongkin administration hit a snag last week when it asked the board to request emergency powers that would trigger an emergency reform process.

“So that these rules can be implemented sooner while still subject to all the public scrutiny and the whole process that regular rule-making goes through,” Ballou said. “We’d like to see it implemented in schools next fall and the only way to do that is by putting emergency rules in place.”

The board directed Ballow to reintroduce the more detailed proposed bylaws and, at least for the time being, deny her request for emergency power. Daniel Gecker, chairman of the board, said the case could be reconsidered once they have more information.

Dr. Alan Seibert, a Youngkin appointee to the board, said, “It gives me heartburn because anything worth doing is worth doing right, and doing something like this quickly is a fraught proposition.”

Delegate Rodney Willett (D-Henrico) said an accelerated rulemaking process would limit important public contributions.

“It’s critical to have input from people familiar with school systems, education experts, and others. Why you’re excluding that input is beyond me,” Willett said.

Youngkin management wants to create separate accreditation processes, which will focus on school compliance and accountability, and which will measure school performance based on student outcomes.

Ballou said the goal is to create a more transparent accountability system that paints a clearer picture of schools that are struggling. She said this would allow parents to measure the school’s effectiveness and take action.

For the 2022-2023 school year, 89% of Virginia schools achieved full accreditation, down three points compared to pre-pandemic performance. In a September statement, Yongkin said these rankings raise questions about the effectiveness of current accreditation standards, given the significant drop in student achievement that occurred over that period.

“We have an educational emergency on our hands right now. With our NAEP scores, we’ve seen the largest drop in fourth grade reading in the country since 2017 and 2019. In math, we have the largest drop in fourth grade math from 2017 to today,” Ballow told the board. .

In a presentation to the board last Wednesday, Ann Heslop, director of policy development for All4Ed, said Virginia’s current system “does a poor job of differentiating schools” compared to other states.

But Anne Holton, a board member who was reappointed by former governor Ralph Northam, said it remains unclear what exactly the Yongkin administration wants to change, what alternative approach it will take and how resources will be aligned to support struggling schools.

“I have no concept of what a transparent system of accountability you want to embark on, and until I understand that better, I don’t know how to proceed with any of this,” Holton said.

Seibert also pushed back on the idea that the current system is not transparent.

“It’s transparent. It’s only complicated and it’s intentionally complicated because … we wanted to respect the complexity of the profession,” Seibert said.

Sen. Scott Soroville (D-Fairfax) has raised concerns about the potential adoption of a system that uses AF grades to rate schools. He said that approach has been rejected by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the past. It’s one of several models under study, according to Ballou.

“There is no contingency in our accreditation system,” Soroville said. “Giving schools a bunch of grades and making some schools radioactive will do nothing to solve the problem… all it will do is make people flee schools.”

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