“Much Superior” Virginia?

For weeks now, we have been hearing about states that have decided they will not pursue Race to the Top, Part II.  Over at Politics K-12 , Michele McNeil has a dozen or so states that either have decided not to apply or are dangerously close to not applying before next Tuesday’s drop-dead date for the final taste of the $4 billion pot.

This shouldn’t be surprising.  More than 40 states put in hundreds upon hundreds of hours of work and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants to prepare their Phase I apps.  Two states, Delaware and Tennessee, won in the early round.  Those remaining states were left with detailed judges’ scores to help guide a redo due June 1.  But some states simply don’t have the stomach for it, offering a host of reasons not to pursue.

Perhaps one of the most interesting reasons for declining was offered yesterday by Eduflack’s home state of Virginia.  According to the Washington Post, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is not entering the Race because of the Common Core Standards.  The chief executive of the Old Dominion claims that Virginia’s current academic standards are “much superior” and he doesn’t see the need of tinkering with 15 years of work to establish the current Standards of Learning.

I understand a state like Massachusetts, which is known for having some of the top performance standards in the nation to be wary of common core, but Virginia, really?  When discussions turn to state standards and the leaders and laggards, one really hears about Virginia’s SOLs being at the top of the class.  

Earlier this month, Eduflack wrote about the dangers of states that have reduced their standards to show performance gains on AYP.  Unfortunately, we see far too many states that tout impressive records of student acheivement on their state exams and measured against their state standards, only to see that performance plummet when compared to a common yardstick like NAEP.

So let’s take another look at the data offered by Gary Phillips, a vice president at American Institutes for Research and the former acting commissioner at NCES.  How does Virginia stack up?  According to the SOLs, 82 percent of fourth graders in Virginia were proficient in math.  But when we look at the NAEP scores, that number drops to the low 40s.  It is even worse for eighth grade math, where the SOLs put proficiency at 79, but NAEP puts it under 40.

Why is this important?  The NAEP is a common measure.  It lets Virginia see where it stacks up compared to other states.  And the numbers there are startling.  In fourth grade, we are in the middle of the pack, far behind states like Massachusetts, South Carolina, Missouri, Washington, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  By eighth grade, Virginia is near the bottom of the pack in such performance, only posting better numbers that seven states.

Is that really “much superior?”  Are we really declaring “mission accomplished” when we are mediocre at fourth grade and drop to the bottom quartile by eighth grade?  The bar we’ve set on academic standards is … at least we are better than Oklahoma?

2 thoughts on ““Much Superior” Virginia?

  1. Virginia’s average grade-four score in reading of 227 was seven points higher than the average score of 220 for the South and the nation. Students in only one state – Massachusetts – performed at what the national testing program described as a statistically higher level on the fourth-grade reading test. Virginia’s average grade-eight score in reading of 266 was five points higher than the average for the South and three points higher than the average for the nation. Fourth-grade African-American students in Virginia again outperformed their national and regional peers, and in no state did black students perform at a statistically higher level in either grade. Achievement gaps between black and white students at both tested grade levels were statistically unchanged from 2007, when the national reading tests were previously administered.

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