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Gaslighting the Public: Manufactured SAT Crisis (1 of 3)

Governor Youngkin continues to gaslight the public by manufacturing problems that he continues to blame on public schools in Virginia. It worked stunningly to get him elected in 2021; nevertheless, parents are weary of Youngkin’s empty claim that he is the “education governor.”

This November, all of the Virginia General Assembly and many school board seats are up for election, thus the Governor and his supporters are repeating the tired claim that Virginia K-12 schools are failing. This seems like an odd self-own since the Youngkin administration has been in charge of the Commonwealth’s schools for nearly two years. Also, this claim flies in the face of the fact that Virginia public schools are rated fourth out of all the states, based on reviews by both Forbes and the World Population Review.

In Fairfax County, all 12 non-partisan school board seats are up for election on November 7, 2023; therefore, the Fairfax County Public School system (FCPS) is in the eye of Youngkin’s storm of attacks. Additionally, far right and right-leaning candidates are smearing the current Fairfax County school board in order to justify an enormous shift to the right come November.

In advance of the election, one of their many claims is that a recent decline in SAT scores demonstrates that Fairfax County schools are failing, which will lead to a drop in property values in the county. This is an astonishing claim, because FCPS performs above both the state and global SAT averages. Also, it is absurd to condemn the Fairfax County School Board for a decline in local SAT scores when schools across Virginia, in other states, and around the globe had similar declines between 2018 and 2022.

Many variables limit our ability to accurately compare performance based on SAT scores before, during and after the pandemic. However, it is clear that the pandemic has had an influence on SAT scores across the country: fewer students took the test, participation varied among school systems and years during the pandemic, and SAT scores dropped. In fact, the College Board reported that only 1.5 million students took the SAT in the class of 2021 versus 2.1 million in the class of 2020.

A significant number of colleges and universities no longer require applicants to submit SAT scores, resulting in a smaller number of students taking the test and a shift in the profile of students taking the test. Because some school systems like Fairfax County now offer school-day and free SAT testing, more students from lower-income families have been taking the test. In addition, there are reports that fewer students are retaking the test for a better score, more students are not reporting their scores to colleges, and students not planning to attend college are now taking the test.

These are some of the variables that changed the pool of students taking the SAT, and have affected average SAT scores for all school systems. Surprisingly, there does not seem to be a similar pandemic effect on SAT prep course attendance.

The dip in average SAT scores for FCPS is influenced by many of the same factors that influence dips in SAT scores across the country; however, FCPS has been working to maintain and increase their SAT testing rate. One strategy is offering FCPS seniors free access to SAT School Day testing.

Although residual impacts of the pandemic and changes in college admissions requirements have mostly delayed the return to the pre-pandemic SAT testing levels, the participation rates for FCPS “reflect a developing nationwide movement to de-emphasize entrance exams within the college admissions process.”


This is part one of a three-part series on Gaslighting the Public in Virginia by Governor Youngkin:


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