High school students in Oregon will not have to prove they have basic mastery of reading, writing, or math in order to graduate.
The state Board of Education unanimously decided that, until 2029, it will maintain a hiatus on graduation requirements first enacted in 2012. The standards were suspended during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Between 2012 and 2019, high school students in Oregon had to demonstrate they were proficient in nine areas the state deemed “Essential Skills.” This included reading, writing, math, critical thinking, technology usage and civic and community engagement. Proficiency was demonstrated through state-wide standardized testing.
The board says the results of assessments used to gauge if students had met the competency thresholds in each area were marginalizing students with disabilities and students of color.
“We are unable to ethically make a different decision at this point,” said the board’s chair, Guadalupe Martinez Zapata, per KATU2. “It is also unethical for us to continue to require this when we know it can continue to cause harm and has had no change in how students are performing.”
The state-mandated test will still be conducted but students who do not meet proficiency thresholds will not be prevented from graduating. Parents are also informed annually under state law that they may opt their students out of taking the tests.
In June of 2021, Oregon was required to review its graduation standards following the passage of Senate Bill 744. Lawmakers argued that the pandemic and the education disruptions could be used as an opportunity to review the standards.
“If we’re going to look at our graduation requirements, this is the time,” said State Representative Teresa Alonso Leon, per Oregon Public Broadcasting. “This is the time to really make that assessment and look at it from an equitable standpoint. I don’t know if that was the lens that was used back in 2007.”
State Representative Zach Hudson, who previously worked as a special education teacher, argued that removing the Essential Skills standards made it easier for students to graduate but did not impact the value of a high school diploma from Oregon.
“The fact that we make something easier does not mean it’s less educationally valid, and the fact that something is more difficult for a student doesn’t mean they’ve demonstrated better learning,” Hudson said.
The Oregon Department of Education told OPB a few months later that the testing thresholds were rarely the “sole reason” a student did not graduate.
The decision not to enforce the graduation standards has angered many Oregon residents.
“Opponents argued that pausing the requirement devalues an Oregon diploma,” reports Oregon Live. “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.”
Some residents felt that suspending the Essential Skills requirement and the standardized testing allows the state’s Board of Education to hide any of its own failings.
“Tests measure whether an Oregon student has learned, and the Oregon Business Council is saying that students are coming out of high school not prepared,” said Mary Miller, a parent who opposed the board’s decision, while speaking to KATU2.
“Oregon is suspending the test for political reasons. They have put a lot of activism into the curriculum,” Miller added. “They don’t have time to teach basics anymore because they are substituting in new language arts articles, new tribal history ethnic studies.”