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Despite pandemic setbacks, 89% of Virginia public schools fully accredited

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Temperatures bounce back into the 80s on Sunday

In the first year of accreditation ratings since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 89% of Virginia public schools are fully accredited — a 3 percentage point decrease from three years ago.

In response to the slight dip, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and Gov. Glenn Youngkin, in separate statements quietly released Thursday night, cast doubt on this year’s ratings, citing “significant declines in achievement” on Standards of Learning tests.

“These ratings call into question the effectiveness of our accreditation standards in identifying schools where students are struggling to achieve grade-level proficiency,” Balow said.

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Of the 193 schools that did not receive full accreditation status, 41 are in the Richmond area, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch analysis. None of the 193 had their accreditation completely denied, rather they are all listed as accredited with conditions or slated for an alternative accreditation plan.

State education officials waived accreditation ratings during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years because of the pandemic. Although Virginia public school students fared better on the 2021-22 Standards of Learning results than the previous year, the scores were still below pre-pandemic levels.

“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,” Balow said.

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For the 2022-23 academic year, 89% of public schools across Virginia earned full accreditation, compared to 92% being fully accredited in the 2019-20 school year. Schools accredited with conditions — schools with one or more school quality indicator that is below state standards — also changed by 3 percentage points. In 2019-20, 132 Virginia public schools, or 7%, were accredited with conditions, compared to 190 schools, or 10%, this year, according to a Department of Education news release.

Sixty-nine of the 193 schools not fully accredited for the 2022-23 school year were fully accredited for the 2019-20 school year. Of those 69 schools, nine are in the Richmond region — four in Richmond, three in Henrico County and two in Chesterfield County, according to The Times-Dispatch analysis.

After not receiving full accreditation three years ago, 26 schools across the state are now fully accredited, including Old Hundred Elementary in Chesterfield, which was conditionally accredited in 2019-20 as a new school; and J.L. Francis Elementary in Richmond, which was accredited with conditions three years ago.

Richmond region

Of the 44 schools within Richmond Public Schools, 16 received full accreditation, according to state data, while 28 were accredited with conditions.

Three years ago, 20 were fully accredited, while 22 were accredited with conditions and two schools were pending approval for an alternative accreditation plan.

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A schools spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment by deadline Friday.

Eleven of Henrico’s 67 public schools were accredited with conditions. Thursday’s ratings represented an additional two schools to receive an accreditation with conditions from the 2019-20 academic year.

“The school accreditation information released yesterday aligns with what we already know — students and teachers are deeply engaged in learning, and despite pandemic setbacks, they are moving forward with grit and determination,” said Eileen Cox, a schools spokesperson, in a statement on Friday.

“We know that learning gaps exist, but we also know that they are not insurmountable. Our teachers and administrators are focused on providing remediation and tutoring resources for students to not only catch up but to excel,” Cox said.

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Almost all Chesterfield public schools received full accreditation for the 2022-23 academic year. Two schools received accreditations with conditions, only one additional school from 2019-20.

“I am intensely grateful to Team Chesterfield for this achievement, which reflects the do-whatever-it-takes attitude of our teachers and staff as well as the hard work of our students,” said schools Superintendent Merv Daugherty in a statement. “Last year was our first full year of in-person instruction since COVID-19, and SOL scores improved.”

All Hanover County Public Schools received full accreditation status, the same results as three years ago.

“Although we are proud of the achievement of earning full accreditation, we recognize that the impact of the pandemic on our students, families, and staff is undeniable,” Superintendent Michael Gill said in a statement.

In a statement Thursday night, Youngkin said the accreditation ratings reflect “a broken accountability system.”

“Today’s accreditation ratings do not reflect catastrophic learning loss and growing achievement gaps facing Virginia’s students,” he said.

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“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.”

In 2017, the Board of Education adopted an accreditation system that evaluates schools based on three school quality indicator categories: academic achievement, achievement gaps and student engagement and outcomes.

School performance for each indicator is rated as either a level one, meets or exceeds state standard; level two, near state standard; or level three, below state standard.

Indicator data and overall school ratings are “skewed by several factors,” Balow said.

An example, Balow said, is that with lower expectations on reading tests introduced in the 2020-21 school year coupled with how growth is factored into accreditation, it “resulted in more schools achieving at Level 1 in English than before the pandemic. This masks the catastrophic learning losses experienced by our most vulnerable students.”

Youngkin said his top education officials, Balow, Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera and the state Board of Education will work together to design a new accreditation and accountability system.

The governor said he expects next year’s ratings to provide “an accurate and understandable picture of how well every one of our schools is preparing our students for success in life.”

Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield, expressed criticism regarding Youngkin’s statement in a tweet Thursday night.

“The @GovernorVA is not happy that Virginia’s schools achieved accreditation. Bizarre. He’s calling the ratings ‘fake’ because these numbers do not fit the narrative he is trying make in order to defund public education,” wrote Hashmi, a former college administrator and chair of the Senate Education and Health Committee’s Public Education subcommittee.

Del. Candi Mundon King, D-Prince William, also weighed in on Youngkin’s statement discrediting this year’s accreditation ratings.

“Families, what has this governor done to uplift you? Do we have a perfect system? No. Do we have brilliant students, dedicated teachers/staff and communities working non-stop to recover learning loss? Absolutely. We see your work even if the Governor won’t admit it,” King tweeted Friday morning.

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