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DUMB MOVE: Oregon extends policy allowing high school students to graduate without having to prove proficiency in English and Math

  The  Oregon Department of Education 's main agency that handles K-12 schooling, the State Board of Education, has  extended the elimin...

 The Oregon Department of Education's main agency that handles K-12 schooling, the State Board of Education, has extended the elimination of proficiency test requirements for high school graduation by an additional five years.

The policy, initially introduced in 2021 as a temporary measure due to the pandemic, allows students to graduate without meeting proficiency standards in subjects such as Math and English. The board argues that proficiency tests are unfair to students of color, as students from minority backgrounds tend to struggle to meet proficiency standards.

According to a report presented to the Oregon State Senate Committee on Education in September 2022, the Education Department has accused schools in the state of predominantly relying on standardized tests, known as SBAC, to gauge student proficiency in basic skills. The department also claims to have received feedback from school districts and educators regarding how proficiency tests have become burdensome and were being misapplied.

However, State Sen. Michael Dembrow, who was on the State Board of Education when the requirement was established, explained the intention of the decade-old proficiency test.

"Having this kind of assessment was not really to show whether or not students could read or write, but rather could apply what they were learning to the real world and their scores on the SBAC are really not indicative of that," he said.

The Education Department had originally envisioned that its suspension of proficiency test requirements would allow educators to put students through individual tests, such as completing projects, writing essays or engaging in other experiences and tasks to demonstrate their ability to use essential skills such as critical and analytical thinking, management and teamwork outside of the classroom.

Suspension of proficiency tests in Oregon schools sparks controversy

In an opinion article written by Jonathan Turley for his blog, he said that "rather than give these students the level of education needed to excel in the modern workplace, schools will now process them out with degrees and call it social progress." This approach, he argued, will only lead to students being unprepared for the demands of an increasingly competitive job market.

"If we truly care for these students, we cannot rig the system to just kick them down the road toward failure. It is like declaring patients healthy by just looking at them and sending them on their way. We have the ability to measure proficiency, and we have the moral obligation to face our own failures in helping these kids achieve it," Turley wrote. 

Republican lawmakers also argue that despite the campaign for equity, it is still crucial for students to have the basics.

New Direction, a nonprofit organization founded by former Republican legislator and gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan, mobilized a public comment campaign against the suspension and generated 11,000 emails sent to the board.

"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," Drazan said.

State Rep. Tracy Cramer, a member of the Oregon House Education Committee, expressed frustration over the board's decision and the absence of a public comment period before the vote.

"I think the bigger issue here is that the board has continued to remove standards and has not come up with a game plan," she said. "I think that's why parents and Oregonians are kind of frustrated. Just because graduation rates are improving, it doesn't mean proficiency is."

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