War on standards, Virginia edition

A reader from Northern Virginia follows up on my post about the elimination of grades below “C” in many California school districts by informing me about a lowering of educational standards in his state. He reports:

Here in Virginia students can still fail the statewide Standards of Learning (SOL) reading test, but the method used to determine failure was changed so that fewer children would be seen as failing. In November 2020 the Virginia State Board of Education reduced the “cut score” for reading (score needed to achieve a passing grade of 400) by 10-15% below the prior year’s equivalent.

For example, to have the same level of rigor as the 2019 SOLs, a third grade student had to get 25 out of 40 questions right to pass the exam. For this last year, the Virginia Board of Education reduced that number to 21 out of 40 (16% lower). The result is that the pass rate on the reading test would be higher only because the Board of Education changed the previous benchmark for failure.

I cannot attribute the motivation for the State Board’s decision to a desire to make the pass rate look better during the pandemic. Apparently, changes to testing benchmarks are made over time. And the State Board did not change the benchmark for passing the state math exam.

However, by changing the benchmark for passing the reading exam, school administrators were able to avoid uncomfortable questions about student’s reading performance during the pandemic. For example, when Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Francisco Duran, who sits on the State Board, presented the test results to the Arlington School Board this past August, he failed to mention that reading scores only looked acceptable because the threshold for passing had been lowered. Instead, he allowed the public (and parents) to believe that reading performance had not dropped as much as it really had during the pandemic.

Given Dr. Duran’s role on the State Board, he was surely aware of the benchmark change.

I suspect that this kind of lowering of educational standards is widespread in America. It’s likely to result in a lowering of reading skills, since the less one expects of students, the less one is probably going to get.

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