‘Catastrophic performance’: Youngkin pledges changes after Virginia math and reading NAEP scores plummet

Youngkin Hispanic Heritage

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, center, and Attorney General Jason Miyares, right, attend an event at a restaurant Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, in Virginia Beach, Va. Youngkin met with Hispanic and Latino businessmen and leaders for a discussion of issues. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) vowed to tackle the state’s academic standards Monday after the Nation’s Report Card showed Virginia students had seen significant drops in math and reading scores since 2019.

At a press conference Monday, Youngkin lamented the decline in math and reading scores of fourth- and eighth-grade students revealed by the National Assessment of Educational Progress report released Monday

Among the worst-measured states, Virginia saw an 11-point fall in fourth-grade math scores, a 10-point decline in fourth-grade reading scores, an 8-point decline in eighth-grade math scores, and a 2-point decline in eighth-grade reading scores. 

The test score drop in Virginia outpaced national declines, especially for fourth-grade students. The 10-point decline for reading in fourth grade was the worst in the country and far outpaced the national decline of 3 points. The 11-point decline in math significantly outpaced the national decline of 5 points, while eighth-grade declines in both subjects were fairly even with national trends.

“We must acknowledge the glaring reality that we face together: Our nation’s children have experienced catastrophic learning loss, and Virginia students are among the hardest hit,” Youngkin said. “And we also must clearly recognize that the underpinnings to this catastrophic performance were decisions that were made long before we had ever heard of COVID-19.”

The governor noted that to fix the decline, it would take a unified effort, not just from local and state governments.

“This is not something that state government is going to better resolve on our own or local governments can resolve on their own. We need everyone,” Youngkin said. “It is time for all of us to recognize that this is our responsibility, not someone else’s.”

Youngkin, a Republican, prevailed in a tight election last year in increasingly Democratic-leaning Virginia on a platform that heavily leaned on education issues, especially parental rights. Since taking office, the governor has repeatedly touted his administration’s education policies as a model for Republican governance and has encouraged Republicans elsewhere to focus on education on the campaign trail.

Several northern Virginia school districts — including the Fairfax and Loudoun school districts, among the most populous and wealthiest in the state — did not offer in-person classes for a year after closing their doors in March 2020 and became the primary backdrop for Youngkin’s education-focused campaign.

At the Monday briefing, Youngkin said that in order to “hold ourselves and our schools accountable,” he would be “directing the Board of Education to overhaul our broken school education system, which has masked the fact that we are failing many of our students across the commonwealth.”

“We will … design an open, transparent system of assessment to provide a clearer picture of how every school is or is not serving our students,” Youngkin said. “And then … we will go to work to comprehensively fix the issues with the schools that are underperforming.”

The NAEP report drew several reactions from parent activists, many of whom supported Youngkin’s 2021 campaign.

In a statement to the Washington Examiner, Ian Prior, a senior adviser at America First Legal and the executive director of the political action committee Fight for Schools, which backed Youngkin in the 2021 campaign, said the NAEP results show that “it’s crystal clear that closing schools was a disaster for children’s educational development.”

“Even when schools did reopen, they unnecessarily kept children in masks, all while wasting valuable learning time and resources pushing far-left agendas,” Prior said. “What they should have been focused on was dealing with the massive learning loss as a result of their failures during the pandemic. Parents across the country are now playing catch-up, yet schools continue to double down on their radical indoctrination agendas. This should be a wake-up call to all parents about what the priorities of their taxpayer-funded schools really are.”

Nicki Neily, the president of the parent activist group Parents Defending Education, told the Washington Examiner in a statement that the report indicated it was “time to hold the education bureaucrats, activists, and public health officials who mocked, shamed, and derided families accountable for their decisions.”



“These numbers prove that American parents’ concerns about their children’s education during the pandemic weren’t speculative — but in fact, perfectly valid,” Neily said. “American students were the subject of a yearslong social experiment that will impact our country’s economy for decades to come.”

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