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Board of Education progressing with ‘Accreditation and Accountability Redesign’

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(The Center Square) — The Virginia Board of Education recently reviewed takeaways from 15 listening sessions it hosted as part of its “Accreditation and Accountability Redesign.”

“Virginia is one of the few states that continues to combine an accreditation and accountability system,” said Todd Reid, assistant superintendent of strategic communications for the state’s Department of Education. “Combining these systems into one measurement makes it virtually impossible to really determine how the students are academically performing at that school and how the school is shaping educational outcomes.”

The listening sessions mark the middle of a multi-year redesign process, which was spurred, in part, by Virginia students’ test scores on the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the first NAEP test after the pandemic.

Virginia’s scores – like test scores nationwide – had taken a nosedive. For the first time in at least thirty years, students’ scores dropped, and fourth graders’ reading scores dipped below the national average. Their reading score averaged six points higher than the national average over the years. For math, those same students had exceeded the national average by an average of five points during that same time. In 2022, they landed just one point above the national average.

Even pre-pandemic, students’ academic performance was headed in the wrong direction but wasn’t reflected by Virginia schools’ accreditations, according to Reid.

“Consistently each year, at least 90% of our schools are rated as ‘accredited’ even as student performance has trended consistently downward going on a decade,” Reid told The Center Square. “So the accreditation system does not serve students, parents, educators or the communities well in showing what is most important about a child’s school-student academic performance.”

The current system doesn’t accurately reflect student performance, nor does it reflect gradations in school performance.

“It is a system that does not reveal which schools are doing exceptionally well, so that educators can replicate that success elsewhere, nor does it show which schools are really in need of support to help their students improve,” Reid said.

In the fall of 2022, the Board met with “leading experts” on accountability in education to kick off the redesign. Since then, the Board began the “official regulatory process to revise Virginia’s Standards of Accreditation” and has worked with the Department to create a separate school performance and support framework. The Department is currently building out the new accountability system, of which a preview will be disseminated to schools in the fall.

In its recent series of eight in-person and seven virtual listening sessions, more than 800 people, including parents, teachers, principals, school board members, General Assembly members and other stakeholders attended and participated. Additionally, over 170 comments were submitted outside of the listening sessions for the Board’s consideration.

In general, the Board found strong support for the use of a mastery index, “a weighted calculation based on the achievement level attained by students.”

The concept of performance tasks for elementary and middle school built around the 5 C’s — critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creative thinking and citizenship – was also well-received.

The Board found that stakeholders supported using descriptive categories, like “exemplar” or “developing,” as a clearer, more detailed way of communicating a school’s status rather than an A-F scale.

Participants also felt that multiple measures should be incorporated into high school readiness assessments, including work-based learning experiences, dual or concurrent enrollment, civics readiness through community service and other measures besides advanced coursework.

Board member Amber Northern lauded the results of the listening sessions.

“These sessions have been extremely valuable as we move forward in identifying our schools that need help and ensuring they receive the support their students need,” Northern said in a statement.

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