RICHMOND — Virginia is taking its changes in education to the streets.
Gov. Ralph Northam joined state and local school officials to announce Monday a new initiative dubbed “Virginia is for Learners” that aims to tell residents about the reforms to the state’s education system.
“Education is one of our most effective ways of making good on the promise of equal opportunity for all people no matter who they are or where they live,” Northam said.
The marketing campaign will try to tell the story of recent changes to the state’s high school graduation requirements, accreditation standards and early childhood education efforts.
At the announcement Monday inside Richmond’s Patrick Henry Building, Northam — surrounded by superintendents from across the state — said not enough people know about them.
The initiative includes the Virginia Department of Education, the Virginia Board of Education and other partners.
Most of the changes being highlighted in the campaign started in November 2017 when the Virginia Board of Education shook up how schools are rated and the state’s graduation requirements.
The new accreditation ratings take more than test scores into account, using student growth, achievement gaps and absenteeism, among other things, as ways of grading a school. The system hadn’t seen changes to that scale in the past 20 years.
With the new system, 92 percent of Virginia’s public schools are accredited this year, up from 86 percent last year under rules that focused almost entirely on how students fared on Standards of Learning tests.
“Virginia is for Learners is a strong platform to highlight the important revisions the Board made to the Standards of Accreditation that focus on continuous improvement for all students and the persistent equity work of the Board, the Department and our public schools across the commonwealth,” said Board of Education President Daniel Gecker in a statement.
The new graduation requirements dropped the number of required verified credits needed for both an advanced-studies diploma and a standard diploma to five from six. Course requirements for both diplomas stayed the same.
A verified credit is given for a course where a student earns a standard credit, but also passes the course’s SOL test or an alternative assessment approved by the state board. Under the new requirements, fewer SOL tests are needed in order to graduate.
Monday’s announcement was Northam’s first major K-12 announcement since a racist picture found on his medical school yearbook page became public in early February. He’s resisted calls for his resignation, instead vowing to promote equity across the state — something he said the new campaign does.
“Education is the tide that lifts all boats,” Northam said. “A quality education can empower and equip people to make a better life for themselves, their families and their community. Education is the most powerful tool we have to turn the tide against generational poverty, systemic racism and other ills that hold too many of our fellow Virginians back.”
Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said he hopes the work continues after the state spreads the word to parents, community members and businesses so “people not only know what we’re doing with the education system, but why.”
“Virginia is for Learners doesn’t end with this public information campaign,” he said.