Oregon students shouldn’t have to prove they can write or do math to get a diploma, lawmakers decide

South Salem High School turned its football field into a ceremonial grounds for graduation on Friday, June 11. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

A bill to prohibit Oregon schools from requiring students to show they can read, write and do math at a basic high school level is headed to Gov. Kate Brown after lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday.

The idea is to hit pause on the requirements, in place since 2009 but already suspended during the pandemic, at least until the class of 2024 gets their diplomas and for Oregon to thoughtfully reexamine its graduation requirements in the meantime. A report recommending what the new standards should be is due to the Legislature and Oregon Board of Education by September 2022.

But since Oregon has long insisted it would not impose new graduation requirements on students who have already begun high school, new requirements would not take effect until the class of 2027 at the very earliest. So at least five more classes could be expected to graduate without needing to demonstrate roughly 10th grade level proficiency in math and writing.

The decision to remove the skills requirement was largely but not entirely a party-line one, with Democrats staunchly opposing the proficiency rules and Republicans decrying what they see as a lowering of academic standards.

A spokesperson for Brown told The Oregonian/OregonLive Wednesday she has yet to decide whether she will sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without her signature.

Oregon, unlike other states, did not require students to pass a particular standardized test or any test at all. Students could show their ability to use English and do math via about five different tests or by completing an in-depth classroom project judged by their own teachers. In reality, most schools relied primarily on standardized tests and most students easily passed them.

But demonstrating proficiency proved most challenging for students who learned English as a second language, students with disabilities and students of color.

Officials on the Oregon Board of Education, when they enacted the “essential skills” graduation requirement more than a decade ago, said they hoped no student would be denied a diploma for lacking the skills but that schools would step up and help juniors and seniors who hadn’t mastered enough English or math to do so. Many high schools created special math and writing workshop classes for seniors who needed to demonstrate those skills to get their diplomas.

The bill calls on the diverse committee studying graduation requirements to come up with a recommendation “with the goal of ensuring that the processes and outcomes related to the requirements for high school diplomas are equitable, accessible and inclusive.”

Contact Betsy Hammond at [email protected]; @OregonianPol

This story published with permission of The Oregonian/OregonLive.

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