Va.ed Board Delays Story Standards With Support From Youngkin Appointees

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The Virginia Board of Education delayed proposed revisions to state standards for history and social studies classes in a meeting Wednesday, the first held with Governor Glenn Youngkin’s newly appointed five-member majority. .

On Wednesday, the reconstituted nine-member board also heard details of a Youngkin(R) initiative establishing “lab schools” through K-12 college-district partnerships and voted to change how the The state will assess the academic performance of some students with disabilities this year.

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The 2022 history and social science learning standards, known as SOL, did not go to a final vote on Wednesday; they were just supposed to be accepted by the board for a “first review”. Instead, however, the council accepted a recommendation from Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow to delay that review for a month.

Balow said she wanted more time to hold briefings with new board members, make corrections and gather more public feedback before reconsidering the guidelines. This paves the way for further revisions. The final vote on the standards is scheduled for November.

The 402-page standards, under review and revision, were developed over months in consultation with museums, historians, professors, political scientists, geographers, economists, teachers, parents, entrepreneurs and students. They suggest a slew of revisions to course content, structure, themes and concepts – in one example, requiring students to make more connections to their region and history. Other updates include de-emphasizing memorization and changing all references to Native Americans to read “Indigenous Peoples.”

One of the “guiding principles” that shaped the standards — which must be reviewed every seven years, according to state law — was a desire to “incorporate diverse perspectives,” including recognizing “that perceptions are influenced by various socio-cultural aspects.

Explaining his request to delay accepting the guidelines, Balow said Wednesday, “The first is time…we have five new board members who haven’t had that time” to review the standards.

“Number two is corrections,” she said, saying she had received a large number of public responses pointing out errors, such as a high-profile error in which a reference to George Washington as “Father of our country” was accidentally deleted.

“And there are also content issues, frankly,” she said.

The board accepted Balow’s recommendation to postpone its review of the standards until September. Everyone named by Youngkin pleaded for the delay.

“We might think it’s funny about the George Washington question…” said Youngkin board member and appointee Bill Hansen. “But those are also things that can derail this whole process if we’re not careful.”

The five members Youngkin named to the board shortly after taking office are Suparna Dutta, a telecommunications professional and Fairfax County Public Schools parent; Grace Turner Creasey, executive director of the Virginia Council for Private Education; Hansen, who served as US Undersecretary of Education; Andy Rotherham, co-founder of nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners; and H. Alan Seibert, Constituent Services and Government Relations Officer for the City of Roanoke Public Schools.

Prior to Youngkin’s nominations, the board had only appointees from former Democratic governors Ralph Northam or Terry McAuliffe. In recent years, the council has backed policies touted by Democrats. Youngkin secured his five-member majority after Virginia House Republicans voted not to confirm three Northam nominations to the board of education — Jamelle S. Wilson, Anthony Swann and Stewart D. Roberson, who had begun serving their mandate before official confirmation.

The Republican vote, which went against precedent and was widely seen as retribution for Senate Democrats’ rejection of Youngkin’s choice for the post of Secretary of State for Natural and Historic Resources, meant that Wilson, Swann and Roberson saw their terms end years earlier than expected.

On Wednesday, the board voted to approve funding guidelines for lab schools across the state. These are public schools designed and built by institutions of higher learning or private companies in conjunction with K-12 school districts. Lab schools have existed in one form or another in Virginia since the 1950s, although a 2010 law set out a formal framework for their setup.

During the 2022 legislative session, the General Assembly agreed – in line with Youngkin’s hopes – to allocate $100 million to a university partnership laboratory fund specifically for the development of laboratory schools.

The laboratory school guidelines adopted by the board explain how money from this fund will be distributed, the application process and evaluation, and the rules for spending and responsibility for funding the grant.

Youngkin convenes higher education officials to help push his plan for ‘lab school’ partnerships

The board also approved slight revisions to how computer science courses can be used to meet graduation requirements, as well as physical education standards that emphasize motor skills, fitness physical, “energetic balance” and “social and emotional development”.

The board also agreed to update how the state Department of Education calculates student performance levels for a small group of Virginia students with “significant cognitive disabilities,” who collectively represent about 1% of public school children in the state.

Virginia gives students in this category an annual assessment called VAAP, intended to assess their academic level. But in 2021-2022, the state moved from a VAAP based on student-submitted work samples to a VAAP based on multiple-choice questions. Amy Siepka, director of accountability for the Virginia Department of Education, told board members on Wednesday that the test change prevented educators from comparing 2020-2021 scores to 2021-2022 scores — meaning they weren’t not able to calculate the year of progression of these pupils- to the year for this period.

Normally, yearly progress is considered when officials determine student performance ratings for schools, which in turn helps decide schools’ accreditation. To compensate for the lack of this particular growth measure this year for these students, the Department of Education has proposed – just for this year – to ignore VAAP test failure for some students with disabilities when calculating the accreditation.

The proposal – like almost everything discussed on Wednesday – prompted a lot of back and forth and a long series of tough questions from board member Dutta, who dominated the discussion. Dutta seemed skeptical that the education department had done enough, at all levels, to consult with parents. Often during the meeting, the other eight council members voted in favor of advancing the conversation or approving agenda items, with only Dutta voting against.

When Dutta asked what parents had to say about the review of VAAP test usage this year, Siepka ultimately said the department had not contacted parents about this particular issue, but said that documents detailing the change had been posted publicly where everyone could see them.

Dutta was the only board member to vote against the proposal, which passed. She warned: “I don’t think our parents are happy.”

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