“Education” In Oregon Schools

Oregon students don’t need to prove mastery of reading, writing or math to graduate, citing harm to students of color


Oregon high school students won’t have to prove basic mastery of reading, writing or math to graduate from high school until at least 2029, the state Board of Education decided unanimously on Thursday, extending the pause on the controversial graduation requirement that began in 2020.

The vote went against the desires of dozens of Oregonians who submitted public comments insisting the standards should be reinstated, including former Republican gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan. Backlash against the lowered standard had already delayed the vote, originally slated to take place in September (of 2023).

Opponents argued that pausing the requirement devalues an Oregon diploma. Giving students with low academic skills extra instruction in writing and math, which most high schools did in response to the graduation rules, helped them, they have argued.

But leaders at the Oregon Department of Education and members of the state school board said requiring all students to pass one of several standardized tests or create an in-depth assignment their teacher judged as meeting state standards was a harmful hurdle for historically marginalized students, a misuse of state tests and did not translate to meaningful improvements in students’ post high school success.

Higher rates of students of color, students learning English as a second language and students with disabilities ended up having to take intensive senior-year writing and math classes to prove they deserved a diploma. That denied those students the opportunity to take an elective, despite the lack of evidence the extra academic work helped them in the workplace or at college, they said.

Board members underscored that state-mandated standardized tests will still be administered to most Oregon high school students – they just won’t be used to determine whether a student has the skills necessary to graduate.

“We haven’t suspended any sort of assessments,” state board member Vicky López Sánchez, a dean at Portland Community College, said during Thursday’s meeting. “The only thing we are suspending is the inappropriate use of how those assessments were being used. I think that really is in the best interest of Oregon students.”

Oregon lawmakers, however, have mandated that families be told each year that they can opt their student out of taking state tests – and one third of high school juniors didn’t take the tests last spring, meaning they and their families don’t necessarily know how they measure up against statewide academic standards.

Proving mastery of reading, writing and math on one of many standardized tests or a teacher-judged in-depth assignment was one of several <a href=”https://www.oregon.gov/ode/students-and-family/oregondiploma/Pages/default.aspx”><span style=”color: #0000ff”>Oregon graduation requirements</span></a>. Students also have to earn a prescribed number of credits and complete an education plan that maps out how they can achieve post high-school goals.

During the pandemic, Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill freezing the proficiency requirement, as standardized tests weren’t happening amid school closures. Lawmakers decided to order a more comprehensive review of graduation requirements.

After broad outreach to families, educators, students and employers, with a particular focus on people of color, the Oregon Department of Education recommended new graduation recommendations about a year ago. One of those was to scrap the requirement to show mastery of reading, writing and math. State lawmakers have not acted on that recommendation, and the department in the meantime asked the state board to continue its pause through at least the 2027-28 school year.

Speaking of the academic mastery requirements, Dan Farley, assistant superintendent of research and data for the department, told the state board Thursday, “They did not work. What they were designed to do is protect student interests. We have no evidence that they did that.”

Farley pointed to a 2021 analysis by Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission that found no clear evidence that implementing the proficiency standards improved the performance of Oregon high school graduates during their first year of community college or university classes. The report did not study all possible postsecondary outcomes, Farley told the commission, and the state could do further research on that point.

The report also notes that it’s possible that the level of skill required to meet Oregon’s since-paused academic mastery standards was “too low to improve college and university outcomes.” It’s also possible, the report said, that student success in college relies more heavily on other factors than writing or math skill levels.

Suspending the requirement at least until the class of 2029 gives the state more time to do community outreach about how best to overhaul the grad standards, Farley said, and gives future high school students plenty of time to prepare if this standard does resume.

Hundreds of people submitted written comments to board members about the requirement for students to demonstrate academic mastery, the vast majority in favor of keeping it. Many of those critical emails used the same stock language.

Drazan, a former member of the Legislature, wrote that she had opposed the 2021 bill that suspended the requirement in the first place. Oregon doesn’t need to decrease standards, she wrote, but create and act on a concrete plan to increase students’ academic achievement.

“The board failed to discuss their responsibility for lagging academic achievement in our state. Instead they cast the blame on a tool used to measure a student’s ability to read, write and do math,” Drazan said in a news release sent after the vote. “It’s disappointing that these unelected bureaucrats decided to ignore public comment and continue down a path that neglects their responsibility to help students meet high standards.”

Whitney Grubbs, executive director for Foundations for a Better Oregon, a collaborative project of Oregon-based foundations that advocates for educational equity among other school reforms, wrote in public testimony that pausing or ending graduation requirements without proposing more effective and equitable alternatives “risks leading Oregonians to believe that our state is lowering expectations to artificially mask disparities” and reinforces false and prejudiced ideas that students’ demographics dictate their academic success.

“As Oregonians, we hold high expectations for students because we believe in the boundless potential of children,” Grubbs’ testimony said. “…We urge state leaders to articulate a plan for holding Oregon’s education system accountable for demonstrating whether and how it is supporting all students to meet graduation requirements.”

So Oregon officials have decided to drop all math & reading proficiency requirements in order to graduate high school so that students of color won’t be “harmed”, which of course, is why we now have a society of dumbed-down morons. ~ J. Peterson, Jr.

Written by Sami Edge for The Oregonian ~ October 19, 2023

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