Virginia Standardized Test Scores Plummet During Pandemic

By Rob Shimshock | August 27, 2021 | 5:25pm EDT
Many classrooms have gone unoccupied during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo credit: James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images)
Many classrooms have gone unoccupied during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo credit: James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images)

Standardized test pass rates for Virginia elementary and middle school students dropped precipitously between the 2018-2019 and 2020-2021 school years, sometimes by more than 20 percentage points.

While 78, 82, and 81 percent of students passed the reading, mathematics, and science Standards of Learning (SOL) tests respectively in the 2018-2019 school year, only 69, 54, and 59 percent of students passed the tests administered for the 2020-2021 school year, according to the Virginia Department of Education. The state canceled 2019-2020 SOLs due to the pandemic.

Participation rate for the tests also fell from the 2018-2019 to 2020-2021 school years, with Virginia expanding its opt-out provisions amid the pandemic. While the three tests had between a 96 and 97 percent participation rate during the 2018-2019 school year, only 70 to 72 percent of the relevant student cohorts took the exams during the 2020-2021 school year, reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“Virginia’s 2020-2021 SOL test scores tell us what we already knew—students need to be in the classroom without disruption to learn effectively,” the state's Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said, according to WDBJ7. “The connections, structures and supports our school communities provide are irreplaceable, and many students did not have access to in-person instruction for the full academic year."

Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam announced in May that the state will devote $62.7 million to Virginia LEARNS Education Recovery grants, with goals such as "increased in-person instruction and small-group learning," "targeted remediation, extended instruction, and enrichment," "strategic virtual learning, technology, and staff training," and "social-emotional, behavioral, and mental health supports for students and staff."

Virginia public schools will also be making use of $147 million from the federal government's American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, with $105 million reserved for remedying unfinished learning and the remaining amount applied to summer learning and afterschool programs.

Rob Shimshock is the commentary editor at He has covered education, culture, media, technology, and politics for a variety of national outlets, hosted the Campus Unmasked YouTube show, and was named to The Washington Examiner's "30 Under 30" list. Shimshock graduated from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Media Studies.

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