ARLINGTON, Va. (DC News Now) — With weeks before many Northern Virginians head to the polls to elect school board members, new data shows the people they elect will face a tall task: helping Virginia students recover from learning declines.

Among the notable numbers from The Nation’s Report Card: just under 60% of Virginia fourth graders scored at or above basic reading levels in 2022, compared to nearly 69% in 2019. Additionally, both fourth and eighth graders in Virginia saw a drop in math scores.

The only category that did not decline greatly is eighth-grade students’ reading scores, which did drop, but not enough to be statistically significant, the National Assessment of Educational Progress deemed.

“These numbers are really just devastating and they have, really, a catastrophic impact on this population of students,” said Allison Nicholson, a parent advocate with Arlington Parents for Education.

For the first time in at least two decades, fourth-grade students in Virginia scored lower than the national average in reading.

These conversations are now driving school board elections. Monday night, Arlington Parents for Education hosted a virtual forum featuring two candidates hoping to join the county’s school board. The first question was how to recover from the trend.

“A year’s worth of achievement in one year, that’s not going to be enough right now,” said James “Vell” Rives. He pointed to fewer homework assignments being given as something he would like to change.

“The focus on evidence-based instruction is a really critical piece,” said Bethan Sutton, who also remarked that testing is not the only way to measure these problems and that she hopes more is done to listen to teachers about what is happening in the classroom.

The data has also ignited more criticism of Northern Virginia school boards. Fairfax County Parents Association blasted the county’s school board saying it has been “focusing on a hundred other issues but never tackling the pursuit of academic excellence, and never truly tackling the impacts of COVID-policy induced lost learning.”