RICHMOND — Virginia schools won't receive normal accreditation ratings from the Department of Education for the next two years.
Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane announced Tuesday that he is waiving annual school accreditation for the 2021-22 academic year, a move a state-appointed panel recommended to the K-12 schools chief earlier this year. Instead, all schools will be assigned a rating of "Accreditation Waived." That's the same rating they've received for 2020-21 after COVID-19 upended the end to this school year.
“Waiving annual accreditation for a second year will allow our schools to focus on assessing the impact of the shutdown on students, academically and on their social and emotional well-being,” Lane said in a statement.
He added: “It will also allow school divisions to make decisions about resuming in-person instruction or reverting to virtual learning that prioritize the health of students and staff, without the added pressure of the possible impact on accreditation."
The ratings are often used to publicly judge a school's quality and help dictate how much support and oversight a school receives from the state.
In Tuesday's announcement, the Virginia Department of Education said that without spring Standards of Learning test results this year, there is "insufficient data" to calculate ratings for the upcoming school year. While the state's accreditation system has lessened the weight of standardized test scores, the results still play a key role in the calculations.
Part of the new system, which the state rolled out in 2018, includes year-over-year growth in English and growth in mathematics, meaning that without this year's results, there also won't be enough data for the 2021-22 ratings.
The state canceled this year's SOLs after the U.S. Department of Education granted Virginia a waiver, relieving the state of its requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal government’s primary K-12 education law.
State guidance released in June says that without another federal waiver, the state Education Department expects school districts to give SOL tests in the upcoming school year, which will be held virtually, at least to start, for many students.
Asked if the state is pursuing a testing waiver for the 2020-21 school year, Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle said at the time that "it is likely that there would be great interest in Virginia and in other states given the disruption to learning caused by the pandemic."
The U.S. Department of Education has indicated that it will not grant testing waivers again in the upcoming school year.
“We will continue to work with state and local education leaders on the flexibilities and supports they might need next school year, but the Department has nothing new to announce on this particular subject at this time," said Eli Mansour, the agency's deputy press secretary.
Lane said Tuesday that if students are tested in the upcoming school year, "the focus should be on evaluating the impact of the pandemic on student learning and establishing a new baseline for measuring student growth.”
The former Chesterfield County superintendent's decision comes after a task force he created in April, led by Charlottesville Superintendent Rosa Atkins, Fairfax County Superintendent Scott Brabrand and Salem Superintendent Alan Seibert, recommended waiving accreditation for the 2021-22 school year or slightly tinkering with the way schools are judged.
The panel stipulated that should schools not be open for the entire 2020-21 school year, then its recommendation is to waive accreditation.
(This is a developing story. It will be updated.)
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