Oregon suspends high school graduation requirements to ‘disrupt … basically racist outcomes’

The Oregon Board of Education decided to suspend some high school graduation requirements in a unanimous vote last week, the Oregonian reported. As a result, students will not be expected to prove basic mastery of reading, writing, or math on an exit assessment to receive their high school diplomas.

In 2021, former state Governor Kate Brown (D) signed Senate Bill 744, which suspended skills testing amid the COVID-19 lockdowns. Prior to the legislation, high school students were required to demonstrate essential skills for graduation.

At the time, Marc Siegel with the Oregon Department of Education told KATU, “Senate Bill 744 does not remove Oregon’s graduation requirements, and it certainly does not remove any requirements that Oregon students learn essential skills.”

“SB 744 gives us an opportunity to review our graduation requirements and make sure our assessments can truly assess all students’ learning. In the meantime, it gives Oregon students and the education community a chance to regroup after a year and a half of disruption caused by the pandemic,” Siegel added.

Last Thursday, the state board of education voted to continue the suspension until 2027 despite dozens of community members submitting public comments in favor of reinstating the requirements. According to the board, the assessments were harming students of color and those with disabilities, KTVL reported.

Schools are still conducting the skills assessments, but the results are no longer being used to determine whether a student can graduate.

Vicky López Sánchez, a dean at Portland Community College, explained, “We haven’t suspended any sort of assessments.”

“The only thing we are suspending is the inappropriate use of how those assessments were being used,” Sánchez continued. “I think that really is in the best interest of Oregon students.”

Board Chair Guadalupe Martinez Zapata stated, “We are unable to ethically make a different decision at this point. 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.”

Dan Farley, the Oregon Department of Education assistant superintendent, said, “The ways that students met the requirements, the types of diplomas that they got could all be predicted by race, ethnicity, IEP status, multilingual learner status.”

“We have to do what we can to disrupt those basically racist outcomes,” he added.

Critics of the board’s decision expressed concern that dropping the exit assessment will devalue the state’s high school diploma.

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