89 Percent of Virginia Schools Meet Accreditation Standards but Administration Says That Doesn’t Reflect Reality

The Virginia Department of Education released the first accreditation data for schools since COVID-19 began, and 89 percent of Virginia’s districts are fully accredited for 2022 through the 2023 year, three percent less than 92 percent in 2019 through 2020 period. But Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration isn’t celebrating the relatively small decrease; instead, officials say that shows that accreditation standards don’t capture the reality of COVID-19 learning losses.

“These ratings call into question the effectiveness of our accreditation standards in identifying schools where students are struggling to achieve grade-level proficiency,” Superintendent of Public Education Jillian Balow said in a press release announcing the accreditation rate. “The number and percentage of schools earning accreditation is almost as high as three years ago, despite significant declines in achievement on Standards of Learning tests in reading, math and science — especially among minority and economically disadvantaged students. Accreditation is one of the primary drivers of state interventions and local efforts to improve outcomes for students, and frankly, the school ratings we are releasing today fail to capture the extent of the crisis facing our schools and students.”

Accreditation is a way for VDOE officials to categorize districts that meet state school quality standards and have three categories: accredited, accredited with conditions, and accreditation denied. The Virginia Board of Education sets accreditation standards, although the General Assembly can pass laws requiring the board to include specific provisions. The board set the current standards in 2017, looking at performance in English, mathematics, chronic absenteeism, dropout rate, and graduation/completion.

Youngkin’s administration has argued that despite metrics that suggest good school and education quality across the state, those reports reflect lowered standards. Based on that, Youngkin and his education administration are building the case for policy changes. With a majority of Youngkin-appointed members on the Board of Education, the administration can make substantial changes at the regulatory level, including the accreditation standards.

When the accreditation data was released Thursday, Youngkin said in a separate press release, “Today’s accreditation ratings do not reflect catastrophic learning loss and growing achievement gaps facing Virginia’s students. This broken accountability system fails to provide a clear picture of the academic achievement and progress of our schools to parents, teachers, and local school divisions. Virginia must have the most transparent and accountable education system in the nation and these accreditation ratings demonstrate the imperative for change. Secretary Guidera will continue her work with Superintendent Balow and the Board of Education in their efforts to design an accreditation and accountability system that provides clear, actionable, and timely information. I expect the release of our school accreditation ratings next year to provide Virginians an accurate and understandable picture of how well every one of our schools is preparing our students for success in life.”

On Twitter, Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-Henrico), a teacher, called on Youngkin to budget money in the next year’s budget for a tutor corps or for more funding for support staff in schools.

The @GovernorVA never misses an opportunity to politicize the learning loss students faced during Covid. And then he never fails to prioritize tax cuts for the wealthy over actually helping kids recover. Let’s fund a tutor corp and finally get to school counselor ratio we need,” VanValkenburg said.

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network.  Email tips to [email protected].

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