Oregon Governor Kate Brown privately signed a bill which ends the need for high school students to prove proficiency in math and reading before graduation. Brown did not have a public signing or press release when passing Senate Bill 744 in July. The bill was not added into the state’s legislative database until more than two weeks after being passed. The staffer who was supposed to update the database was experiencing medical issues and the database had technical issues during the 15 day period, according to the Secretary of the Senate’s office. Though, a handful of bills the governor signed into law in July around the same time were updated in the legislative database the same day she signed them and email notifications were sent out immediately to people who signed up to track the bills. Those bills included creating a training program for childcare and preschool providers aimed at reducing suspensions and expulsions of very young children. Why weren’t the new graduation requirements also made public in a timely fashion? This is not the first time amid the pandemic Oregon has made changes to education requirements. Students no longer had to test on a freshman to sophomore level due to Brown’s Stay Home, Save Lives order. Now students don’t have to really learn anything since the standards have been basically erased for the next few classes. What is the purpose of public education if the schools are not teaching the public?
What do Democrats say?
Democrats were mostly in favor of SB 744’s because they believe the current standards are flawed. “SB 744 gives us an opportunity to review our graduation requirements and make sure our assessments can truly assess all students’ learning,” said Charles Boyle, a spokesman for the governor. “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.” The bill suspends the need for test scores or grades for three years. Supporters believe the current standards present an unfair challenge for students who do not test well. Boyle said the new standards for graduation would “aid Oregon’s students of color.” I honestly do not see how no longer caring if students truly get an education is an effective way to aid any students. There are plenty of ways to improve the way we test and make it individual to learning and testing styles without removing the need for, what will essentially be an entire highschool graduating class start to finish, to actually learn and retain knowledge. “The testing that we’ve been doing in the past doesn’t tell us what we want to know,” according to Senator Lew Frederick. “We have been relying on tests that have been, frankly, very flawed and relying too much on them so that we aren’t really helping the students, teachers or the community.” Supporters of SB 744 said the state needed to remove current standards so lawmakers could evaluate what policies and standards to update. New graduation standards are due to the Legislature and Oregon Board of Education by September 2022. Oregon currently does not use any particular test score as a requirement for a diploma. The Department of Education says “students will need to successfully complete the credit requirements, demonstrate proficiency in the Essential Skills, and meet the personalized learning requirements.” So during this transition period what would be considered “proficiency in the essential skills?” Especially since the requirements to be at a freshman to sophomore level are no longer in play, what is being considered as proficient?
What do Republicans say?
Republicans have worried about SB 744 lowering academic standards. “I worry that by adopting this bill, we’re giving up on our kids,” House Republican Leader Christine Drazan said on June 14. The bill had some bipartisan support with a small number of republicans voting in favor of passage. Many republicans are angry over SB 744. Most of the courses that teach children to master their skill level of math and reading have been discontinued since the skills requirement was paused during the pandemic. Now lawmakers are killing the requirement entirely. Republicans have come out against SB 744 and claim that it lowers “expectations for our kids.” Oregon education officials have made it clear they won’t “impose” new graduation requirements on students already in high school. New requirements would not take effect until the class of 2027. That means as many as five classes of future adults in America could graduate from a public highschool without needing to actually learn math and writing. Many of the democrats who support SB 744 claim to dislike graduation requirements because of standardized tests. This seems odd for Oregon, since students had the option to demonstrate their ability to use English and do math with five different tests. Students could also complete a classroom project judged by their teachers. How will we know if the children in the transition learned anything? Having the perfect teachers will be so important in this new environment for students to actually learn, even then will teachers be able to help every single student? How can Democrats ensure every single student in the transition will get a quality education?
Many teachers have recently left the field and countless others across the country have considered it due to the way the education system is currently structured. No one disagrees that there are changes to be made in order to have successful students and teachers. The question is, why is it okay to possibly leave up to five classes behind in order to fix the issues? No child in America should be subject to a disservice like that. Teachers used to tell me coming through school, knowledge is power, and they were right.
Written by: Erinn Malloy