Virginia, Education Department Agree to New Academic Achievement Standards

After criticism for its unfair academic achievement standards, Virginia and the U.S. Department of Education have come to an agreement to revise the state's testing standards.

These new standards will require schools to focus on students who are furthest behind and help them make the greatest progress, according to a letter Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Education to Virginia's Superintendent of Schools Patricia Wright.

"...We understand that the VDOE has identified an alternate methodology that will result in AMOs that require subgroups that are further behind to make greater rates of progress."

The letter further outlined that new standards under No Child Left Behind were flexible so that schools could set reasonable expectations, while ensuring all students move forward.

"Ambitious but achievable AMOs that require significant closing of achievement gaps between subgroups of students are a critical element of those plans, and the steps that VDOE will take to revise its AMOs clearly reflect its commitment to put into place a system intended to improve the performance of all students and close achievement gaps."

The previous academic standards differentiated between racial groups, expecting Asian and white students to pass at a higher standard than black and Hispanic students. This policy was criticized for its unfair standards as many civil rights groups and educators argued that setting lower expectations would hinder the progress of certain student subgroups.

“My biggest concern is setting lower expectations for minorities than other cultures,” Carmen Taylor, vice president of the state chapter of the NAACP told The Washington Post. “If you set low expectations for children, you devalue them and demoralize them to themselves.”

The chapter had also sent a letter to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) expressing their concerns for the previous policy.

The U.S. Department of Education under the Obama administration allows schools to set differing standards for different groups of students, given that those who are furthest behind should make the greatest progress to ensure the gap between low-performing and high-performing students is cut in half.

The Virginia Department of Education's initial standards policy had actually accomplished just the opposite, requiring less from low-performing subgroups rather than focusing on their improvement.

"The right thing wasn't done the first time around," Democratic state Sen. Mamie Locke told The Virginian-Pilot. "Now is the time for them to revisit this. It's never too late to make the corrections."