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Understanding Virginia's New School Accreditation System

Virginia Department of Education

School accreditation ratings are out Thursday in Virginia. But for parents and teachers things may not look so familiar. That’s because the state has implemented a whole new rating system, shifting the focus away from test scores. Schools will be evaluated on student growth, how often students miss school,  and achievement gaps between African-American students and their white peers.

Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane says the new system moves the state from using a hammer to using a flashlight.


LANE: A school that maybe has had really high pass rates in the past might find that they have an achievement gap issue to work on. They might find that their students living in poverty will need a different focus.  They may find that many of their students are not attending school in the way that they want.

So now the system takes that flashlight, shines a light on the areas that need focus, and will allow school’s to move forward and be able to show our parents really the full picture of how a school is doing.

NOE-PAYNE: Are SOL pass rates still important?

LANE: SOL pass rates are certainly still important. But what we want to do is take the pressure off the SOL outcome for each student being what drives our instruction, to really changing to an environment of deeper learning.

NOE-PAYNE: One of the things that kickstarted these policy changes was a critique that in classrooms we were teaching to the test too much. How does this change in system affect what happens in the classroom day to day?

LANE:  What we hope this does is reduces the focus on making sure that everyone passes to keep your school accredited, towards focusing on each individual student and the skills and the deeper learning that we want to see to prepare them for the workforce.

NOE-PAYNE: One of the things that’s changed is that students that show growth but haven’t necessarily passed yet will be included in that calculation of the pass rate. Is this a lowering of standards?

LANE: So one of the things that we looked at was how could we provide an opportunity for students that were making steady progress towards the benchmark to… how could we show credit for schools that were doing that. I’ve worked with many teachers and they would take kids many many grade levels behind and they would move them forward maybe even two or three years in one year. But that student would still be labeled a failure. But when you think about a student that is many grade levels behind and growing two or three years in one year, that’s a huge success. In fact I would say that teacher is a miracle worker.

Credit Virginia Department of Education
Schools will be rated from Level 1 (top achievement) to Level 2 (bottom achievement) in certain criteria.

NOE-PAYNE: So is this a lowering of standards?

Credit Virginia Department of Education
Schools that receive all Level 1 or 2 ratings are accredited. Schools that are rated Level Three for any single criteria will be accredited with conditions.

LANE: I believe that this is a more rigorous system as we think about our schools. I believe that we have certainly more indicators to look at. We’re going to be focused on more students. But beyond that, the old system had say 87 schools around the state that were denied accreditation and almost 1,600 schools that were fully accredited. Now, as you look at Level 1 and Level 2 and Level 3 in the ratings what you’re going to find is that many more schools are going to be accredited with conditions than we had denied accreditation. So it’s going to allow the state to work more directly with schools right away rather than waiting the four years until a school is denied accreditation to support the improvement and quality efforts in that school. And so I think that as this system continues to develop into the future we’re going to have a lot more information about our schools and we’re going to be working with a lot more schools to not only focus on those overall pass rates, but really dig in on how we can move the ball forward in every school in the Commonwealth.


NOE-PAYNE: Thank you very much.

LANE: Thank you.  


You can find more information and explanation on the new system here.   


This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.


Mallory Noe-Payne is Radio IQ's Richmond reporter and bureau chief. She's covered policy and politics from the state capital since 2016. She was a 2020-2021 recipient of the Fulbright Young Journalist Award. She spent a year in Munich, Germany researching memory, justice, and how a society can collectively confront its sins. Her Virginia-based coverage of home healthcare workers, voting rights, and Richmond’s Slave Trail have won national news awards.