If the first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging there is a problem, give Democratic School Board endorsee Mary Kadera credit for recognizing the elephant in the room.
At the Sept. 8 Arlington Committee of 100 campaign forum, Kadera acknowledged the massive drops in scores on state Standards of Learning exams (SOLs) as Arlington students were locked at home over the past school year. And, she said, steps need to be taken to get back on track.
“We have quite a bit of work to do,” Kadera said, proclaiming the freefall in SOL scores in Arlington and statewide as “super-concerning.”
State-mandated Standards of Learning (SOLs) test scores for the past school year were released Aug. 27 by the Virginia Department of Education. They confirmed what any parent and most students and teachers already knew: Attempting to teach students online rather than in a classroom usually doesn’t work.
Across Northern Virginia, where students were among those most frequently shackled to at-home computers for the 2020-21 school year, modest declines in English/reading scores were accompanied by more significant – sometimes cringe-worthy – drops in science and math. Kadera termed the math drop-offs “bigger and more concerning” than any other.
Drops of more than 20 points were found in most math tests, from third grade through high school, although the declines were most pronounced in the lower grade levels. Math SOL pass rates for third-graders dropped 25 points in Arlington (from 87 to 62).
“That’s a flag,” said Kadera, who is on the Nov. 2 ballot against Mike Webb in the race to succeed School Board member Monique O’Grady, a Democrat who has thrown in the towel after a single four-year term.
Webb, who four years ago unsuccessfully ran against O’Grady, was invited to participate in the forum but did not respond, Arlington Committee of 100 president Hannah Dannenfelser said.
In the spring, Kadera scored about 61 percent of the vote to defeat Miranda Turner in the Democratic caucus. In Virginia, School Board seats officially are nonpartisan, but political parties can (and often do) “endorse” candidates.
During a question-and-answer period, Kadera ripped the current School Board for not engaging the public sufficiently or effectively. She pressed for “collaboration in a more open and transparent and powerful way,” and said she would bring “fresh thinking” to the five-member body.
That promise – some currently on the board might take it as a veiled threat – of independence might be one reason Arlington’s Democratic power structure was slow to embrace Kadera’s candidacy in the spring, hoping someone more in line with the current School Board and its thinking might emerge to run.
But when none did, and when faced with a choice between Kadera and the back-in-classrooms advocate Turner (who would have been an even more revolutionary arrival on the School Board), many establishment Democrats ultimately embraced Kadera as the best choice among the options at hand.
Her victory against Webb, a decidedly fringe candidate, is all but assured.