Blue State Suspends Graduation Test Again, Sparking Debate About Equity

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Oregon high schoolers will not have to prove basic reading, writing, or math skills to graduate for at least another five years. According to education officials, these requirements are unnecessary, and they disproportionately hurt students of color.

Christine Drazan, former Oregon governor candidate, said: “At some stage… our diploma will end up looking more like a prize for participation than a certificate that actually shows that someone is ready to pursue their best future.”

Since the coronavirus outbreak, the essential skills requirement for graduation has been suspended. Last week, the Oregon State Board of Education unanimously voted to suspend the requirement until the 2027-2028 academic year.

The requirement required 11th graders to demonstrate competency in essential subjects by submitting a standard test or work samples. Students who did not meet the expectations had to take additional math and writing courses in their senior year, thus missing a class they could have taken.

The Oregonian reported that board members felt the standards were unnecessary, and hurt marginalized students, as students of color, those with disabilities, and those learning English in a second or foreign language had to go the extra mile to prove their worth.

The board was urged to reinstate standards after hundreds of public comments were submitted opposing this move. A New Direction Oregon, Drazan’s advocacy group, issued a call for action that prompted many of the public comments.

Guadalupe Martinez Zapata, the board chair, described the opposition previously as a “campaign de misinformation” and a “mental acrobatics of artistic quality.”

In a meeting held in late September, Martinez Zapata stated that the myopic analyses and bigotry that follow them automatically discredit the arguments. He added that the rhetoric about the cultural and social norms as the reason behind the poor performance of systemically marginalized children on tests is reminiscent “of racial superiority argument.”

It is not bigoted or racist to want to your student be able actually to learn, said Drazan. He ran for governor as a Republican in Oregon last, but lost to Tina Kotek, a Democrat, by less than 4%.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that the state has the lowest graduation rate compared to the other states. However, it also has some of the most stringent credit requirements.

Michael Dembrow, a state senator from Oregon, told the Oregon Capital Chronicle: “I don’t understand the assumption that teachers are simply graduating students who do not have the required competencies. I’m not sure what the rationale is.” Dembrow served on the Board of Education when the initial approval of the essential skills requirement took place in 2008.

Drazan said Oregon was reducing standards in all areas, and that state officials were considering “equity grades” instead of the traditional scale from A to F.

“They’re now moving ahead with an agenda which says that if you cheat you can’t fail. She said that if you do not show up for class, you will not receive a zero. They won’t have homework they grade, because they see homework as unfair.

Drazan encouraged parents to make their cases to Kotek’s office. Kotek is the one who appoints members of the education board.

Drazan stated that “she needs to make the Board more responsive to families, students, and stakeholder concerns than they are currently.”

The office of Kotek did not respond immediately to a comment request.