Oregon Senate Bill 744 (pdf) states that students “may not be required to show proficiency in Essential Learning Skills as a condition of receiving a high school diploma” in the next three school years.
“This 2021 Act being necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is declared to exist, and this 2021 Act takes effect on its passage,” it states.
The Oregon House approved the bill 38–18 in June, followed by the state Senate in a 16–13 vote.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, quietly signed the bill into law last month; her office didn’t announce the signing. That move wasn’t entered into the legislative database for about two weeks, until July 29, and people who signed up for alerts on action on the bill never received one, The Oregonian reported.
Brown’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Charles Boyle, an aide to the governor, told the paper that suspending the proficiency requirements will benefit “Oregon’s black, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, tribal, and students of color.”
“Leaders from those communities have advocated time and again for equitable graduation standards, along with expanded learning opportunities and supports,” he said.
The bill suspends the requirements while a review is conducted. The Oregon Department of Education is guided to evaluate, in part, high school diploma requirements in other states. Officials also must identify “the causes of disparities that have resulted from the requirements for high school diplomas in this state” and “whether the requirements for high school diplomas in this state have been applied inequitably to different student populations.”
The department is being told to use a process that is “equitable” in developing recommendations for changes to the requirements for a high school diploma.
The Oregon Education Association supported the bill. It says on its website that it has worked for years to eliminate the essential skills test, claiming the test “can act as a one-size-fits-all standardized test barrier to graduation for students who may otherwise have more than enough proficiency and skill to graduate and go on to great success.”
At a public hearing in March, members of the state House Education Committee heard from detractors and backers of the legislation. Among the detractors was Duncan Wyse, president of Oregon’s Business Council, who was a member of the Oregon Board of Education when the essential skills requirement was adopted in 2008.
“While the Essential Skills requirements warrant review, as do all aspects of the diploma, they should not be jettisoned at the outset. These requirements, which have been in place for a decade, were established through a long, consultative process by the State Board. They addressed a critical challenge communicated by employers and post-secondary institutions alike that many students did not have the reading, writing, and math mastery needed to succeed. It was considered critical for ensuring an equitable education,” Wyse said.
“I urge you to remove this provision from SB 744 A and include the Essential Skills in the comprehensive diploma review.”
Sally Travi of Portland backs eliminating the requirements.
“Many studies have shown that graduation testing requirements do not improve future achievement, improve employment opportunities, or ensure college success. The testing requirements increase the dropout rate, especially among low-income students, English language learners, students of color, and neuro-diverse students who are already struggling,” she wrote to the panel.
“The testing also leads teachers to teach how to take a test, rather than teaching them how to think, how to analyze information, or how to problem-solve. Our children deserve better. If they have passed the classes required for graduation, additional testing is just a way of keeping people from achieving their potential, not helping them in any way.”