Oregon Suspends Need For High School Graduates To Be Proficient in Reading, Writing, and Math

I was once told by a pilot that jet bridges are the most dangerous places in aviation because “no one dies on the plane.” When someone has a fatal episode on a plane, the preference is to move the person outside to “call the code” on the bridge rather than require the plane to be held or quarantined due to the death. If you just move them outside, they died somewhere else. The result is that it can be challenging to determine how many people actually die on airplanes.

That story came to mind this week as more schools moved to end standardized testing — a move that can guarantee no one fails in their schools. In this case, students who lack proficiency in basic subjects are being sent out into society or even college to fail somewhere else. Anywhere other than the school.

Many of us have long objected to the chronic failure of public schools in major cities like New York, Detroit, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore to achieve bare proficiency for many students in reading, writing, and math. The response in many districts is for some to declare standardized testing or meritocracy as racist while other district eliminate special programs or schools for gifted students. Oregon has found a simpler approach. Gov. Kate Brown (D) just signed a bill last month that drops any proficiency requirement in reading, writing or math, before graduation. Problem solved.

The short bill includes this provision:

“SECTION 3. Notwithstanding any rules adopted by the State Board of Education, a student may not be required to show proficiency in Essential Learning Skills as a condition of receiving a high school diploma during the 2021-2022, 2022-2023 or 2023-2024 school year.”

The pandemic was the basis for initial suspension of such requirements but now it is being extended. The call for a more “inclusive and equitable review of graduation and proficiency requirements” was supported by Foundations for a Better Oregon to change requirement to “reflect what every student needs to thrive in the 21st century.” That appears not to include proven proficiency in being able to write, read, or do simple math. The supporters insist that it is unfair to require students to show knowledge on tests.

Charles Boyle, the deputy communications director from Gov. Brown’s office, is quoted as saying that the new standards for graduation will help benefit the state’s “Black, Latino, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color.”

The “benefit” however is more to the school district in getting kids out the door with a diploma without shouldering the burden to get them to a point of bare proficiency. Teachers like Larry Lewin testified in support of the change:

“The students I tutored at North Eugene High School were largely Latinx kids, and to a one, they were resigned, fatalistic, and lacking any hope for graduating with their classmates. They knew the score – they knew they were losers in the system. No amount of coaching, cajoling, mentoring from me would inspire them to want to write better. The Essential Skills Requirement had already sunk them. I was not teaching how to write, how to communicate, how to use language for a purpose; I was test prepping them – again.”

There is value to what Lewin says about “teaching to the test” and the need to focus on substantive learning. I respect him for his continuing commitment to his students and his sincere opposition to testing. However, it is chilling to see a former public school teacher say that “no amount of coaching, cajoling, mentoring from me would inspire [Hispanic kids] to want to write better.” That is the point of education. We have to get kids to reach a level of bare proficiency and establish that ability with an objective test. If you have proficiency in writing or reading, you should be able to write or read on a standardized test.

The move in Oregon is part of a larger effort to eliminate standardized testing and scores on every level of our educational system. If there are no such standardized scores, there is no ability to easily compare the achievement of schools or even the achievement of students applying for admission. Recently, the University of California system joined the “test-blind” movement and said it would end the use of the SAT and ACT in its admissions decisions. The move followed a decision of California voters not to lift the long ban on affirmative action in education under state law.  Many have decried standardized testing as vehicles for white supremacy.

The elimination of standardized testing means that it would be much more difficult to prove that the universities were still engaging in racial discrimination or preferences. With no testing scores for comparison, it would be nearly impossible to show that race was the major or dominant factor in admissions.

University of California President Janet Napolitano sought to eliminate standardized testing by assembling the Standardized Testing Task Force in 2019. Many people expected the task force to recommend the cessation of standardized testing. However, the Task Force surprised many (most notably Napolitano herself) by releasing a final report that concluded that standardized testing was not just reliable by that “at UC, test scores are currently better predictors of first-year GPA than high school grade point average (HSGPA), and about as good at predicting first-year retention, [University] GPA, and graduation.” It even found that “test scores are predictive for all demographic groups and disciplines … In fact, test scores are better predictors of success for students who are Underrepresented Minority Students (URMs), who are first generation, or whose families are low-income.”

Despite those conclusions, Napolitano simply announced a cessation of the use of such scores in admissions.

With states like Oregon now eliminating the need to establish proficiency on basic subjects with standardized tests, American education faces the perfect storm. Despite record expenditures on public schools, we are still failing students, particularly minority students, in teaching the basis subjects needed to succeed in life. We will then graduate the students by removing testing barriers for graduation. Then some may go to colleges and universities that have eliminated standardized testing for admission. At every stage in their education, they have been pushed through by educators without objective proof that they are minimally educated. That certainly guarantees high graduation rates or improved diversity admissions. However, these students are still left at a sub-proficient state as they enter an increasingly competitive job market and economy. Any failures will come down the road when they will be asked to write, read, or add by someone who is looking for actual work product. They will then be outside of the educational system and any failures will not be attributed to public educators.

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.

This column appeared on Fox.com

Update: After the posting of this blog, I heard from retired teacher Larry Lewin, who felt that his views were not accurately reflected in the coverage of this controversy. I offered to have him write a response to be posted with this column so the readers will get his full views. He sent the following:

“I want to correct my position on Oregon’s new graduation law that was cited in Professor Turley’s Fox News article “Oregon, Others Ditch Standardized Tests – It’s Our Kids Who Will Be Hurt Most.”
My quote that “no amount of coaching, cajoling, mentoring from me [as a volunteer] would inspire [Hispanic kids] to want to write better” clearly was in the context of writing on the graduation test, not in general classwork. I spent my teaching career working with students to write better. Also, the Oregon law was misrepresented: It does not remove any proficiency requirement for graduation. The actual law states, “Prohibit State Board of Education from requiring for high school diploma that student show proficiency in any academic content area if student successfully completed credit requirements.” In other words, like millions of you, I graduated high school based on course credit requirements and a passing GPA, and now my state gives back to its students the same playing field. At least 19 other states have also removed their graduation test requirement because they are unfair.
My issue is not with assessing students’ proficiencies — as a teacher I was my job to do that. My issue is with selecting the best measure to accomplish this. Standardized tests are not a good fit. I suggest in-class work samples that are designed to reflect actual course content and skills and are scored objectively with a common scoring guide. Ideally, multiple readers — other teachers, trained parents, community specialists — would also read and score student work.
Larry Lewin
retired public school teacher
Eugene, OR”

229 thoughts on “Oregon Suspends Need For High School Graduates To Be Proficient in Reading, Writing, and Math”

  1. Is anyone surprised? This was inevitable. A similar process has been in place with the hiring and promotion of public employees. My former employer went from a 100% objective promotion testing to a mostly subjective testing. They managed to bypass affirmative action limits simply by changing test. The losers are not only the students but society at large. We have defined competence downward.

    1. This is the way to leave every child behind and share/shift costs… prices forward without accountability.

  2. Standardized testing was intended to be used as a dip stick to see how individual students were progressing with their learning, how the classes and schools were doing. A way to aid analysis and discussions for improvement.

    Then standardized testing was used as a stick to punish schools, even high performing ones, because they didn’t show sufficient “progress”. How much faster can elite runners increase their time?

    Then, standardized tests became sacred, as though they reflected the total value of an education despite the gaps and rigidity.

    The can measure the width and length of a blade of grass, categorize it into species, but tests like that cannot answer Walt Whitman and the the child who asked ‘what is grass?’

    There is, perhaps, a place and use for standardized tests, but not now in the way they are used.

  3. School board and other local elections are essential and critical.

    School districts and other local governing bodies are parasitic, perverted and out of control.

    School districts, and every other institution in this country of self-governance, have been destroyed by the unintended “parasite” vote which was admonished against by Tytler.*

    America is a stone’s throw from Tytler’s dictatorship.

    The American Founders severely limited and restricted the vote to male Europeans, 21 with 50 lbs. Sterling/50 acres.

    Turnout was 11.6%, by design, in the first election in 1788.

    Hysterical and incoherent governance is a function of the expansion of the vote through incoherent and impossible one man, one vote democracy.

    The American Founders did not conceive or establish a nation under one man, one vote democracy.

    They designed the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the dominion of those documents, maintained and perpetuated by the restricted-vote republic.

    The American Founders developed the dictatorship of the restricted-vote, under the dominion of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

    The American Founders built a restricted-vote republic.

    For good reason.

    Constitutional American government exists to facilitate, not provide.

    Americans would do well, and might save the nation, by re-implementing the original, intended restricted-vote republic.

    The Chief exists because a tribe run by the chaos and anarchy of the Indians will be destroyed.

    The inmates have taken over the asylum.

    Elections must be brought under strict control and the vote must be severely limited and restricted, to save the nation.


    “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the people discover they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the canidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy–to be followed by a dictatorship.”

    – Alexander Fraser Tytler

    1. Our nation’s founders were wise men, indeed. A constitutional republic to mitigate the progress of the democratic/dictatorial duality.

      1. The communists (liberals, progressives, socialists, democrats, RINOs) in America are imposing the “dictatorship of the proletariat” conceived by Karl Marx.

  4. I was just telling another poster on this thread that replacing meritocracy with skin-deep diversity reminded me of the cautionary tale of King/Drew Medical Center.

    Supervisors, administrators, and everyone with decision-making capability were told about the deadly problems of King/Drew. But they were afraid to provoke protests and riots, as the hospital preferentially hired black people. So they made ineffective complaints and ignored the dead, until enough bodies piled up that the hospital lost accreditation. You should care how qualified and skilled your doctor or surgeon is, not what they look like.



    “From the beginning, King/Drew was to be something special — a hospital that reflected African American achievement and power, a model for urban hospitals nationwide.

    But within three years, it had become clear that, for all the aspirations the hospital represented, it was falling far short. At times, instead of healing its patients — almost all of them black and Latino — it was killing and maiming them.

    The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which runs the hospital, was left with a political and moral dilemma:

    It could take tough, decisive action, which would surely bring protests and pickets. Or it could take the path of least resistance — issue ineffective reprimands, commission studies, fire an administrator or two — and hope the problems would go away.

    The political price of inaction was small. Members of the Board of Supervisors rarely face serious electoral challenges, and the people being harmed were not politically powerful or well-connected.

    So, given the choice — the distress of racial politics on the one side, the likelihood of more needless deaths on the other — the board chose to risk the latter.

    And the problems didn’t go away. If anything, they got worse.”

    The hospital came to be known as “Killer King.” That’s what happens when you put skin color over safety, quality, and qualifications.

    I would also argue that skin color is no measure of diversity, in any case. You can’t look at someone’s skin and know what kind of person they are, their triumphs and failures, their struggles, or their character. It is just one descriptive characteristic.

    1. One of the most vocal opposition to change at King/Drew was Maxine Waters. Her method was to accuse critics of the hospital of being racist. Look at the rhetoric. This was in 2004. It hasn’t improved; this sickness has spread. Maxine Waters used the race card to agitate in favor of a hospital that was killing patients who were mostly black and Latino, through negligence.

      Neither Waters, nor others of her party, learned from these mistakes. It’s now a proven effective political strategy. Demonize your opponent as racist to get what you want, and then deflect all blame for the consequences.

      “The loudest, most political voice on King/Drew in the last year hasn’t been Burke’s but that of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who has rallied community opposition to much of what the supervisors have tried to do at the hospital.

      When the supervisors met to discuss the proposed trauma center closure last month, Waters organized a demonstration, roused political leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and then virtually hijacked the board’s session by grabbing the microphone and staging a one-woman tour de force.

      It enhanced her reputation with many in the community, who saw her — unlike Burke — as someone willing to use every weapon in the activist’s arsenal to fight for her constituency.

      But some have accused Waters — and others — of being knee-jerk King/Drew defenders.

      “Why weren’t they out in front of the hospital with placards … demanding that the hospital serve the community the way Cedars [-Sinai] serves its community?” asked Joe Hicks, a longtime civil rights leader, referring to the prominent medical center on Los Angeles’ Westside. “Why are they now standing in the way of reform?”

      At the heart of the rhetoric surrounding the hospital has been the issue few politicians want to confront: race.
      Some in the core group of hospital activists have made race a central element. Members of the Board of Supervisors and other critics have been reluctant to take on problems partly for fear of being branded racists.

      “Asking about King/Drew really was like touching the third rail,” said Connie Rice, a prominent civil rights lawyer who is African American. “You would get such a voracious and vicious, racially accusatory backlash that no one would touch it.”…

      Several county supervisors said they had received racist hate mail over the years whenever they had spoken out about problems at King/Drew.

      “They’re just really, really, nasty, nasty letters,” said Molina, a Latina who has been accused — falsely, she says — of wanting to change the name of the hospital to “Benito Juarez Medical Center,” after the 19th century Mexican statesman and national hero.

      “There are some political leaders who look at everything through a racial context,” Antonovich said. “But when you have political leaders using the race card to prop up inferior medical standards and inferior management, they are doing a disservice to the community.””

      1. They use allegations of diversity whitewashed with em-pathetic appeals as near and distance (e.g. unrelated) policy drivers.

    2. Karen S

      Remember Alan Bakke, denied medical school to make room for a less qualified black?

      The black man (Patrick Chavis) who took his place graduated and subsequently lost his license for incompetence and fatal misconduct.

      Actions have consequences.

    3. A rainbow of inclusive exclusion with “benefits”. For the sake of social progress, nay, social justice, Some, Select [Black] Lives Matter. Diversity [dogma] (i.e. color judgment) breeds adversity. One step forward, two steps backward.

    4. “You can’t look at someone’s skin and know what kind of person they are”

      Karen, Unfortunately, given the relaxed standards for blacks in the professions you would be a fool to trust health or wealth to a black professional unless you knew his reputation. The certificates on the office wall are meaningless. They might as well be blue medallions on a winning pig at the county fair, except the pig probably deserved its award. This is very damaging to those blacks who have truly earned their degrees and awards.

  5. Remember that with aggressive affirmative action for government offices these armies of indifferent ignoramuses are those who control the levers of power over our lives.

    What could go wrong?

    1. Affirmative action within a limited, reconcilable frame, but with progress the scope was liberalized and evolved as affirmative discrimination based on diversity (i.e. class-based, systemic) and politically congruent (“=”) classes.

  6. I can’t wait to fly an airline whose slogan is “we put diversity first”.

    Actually, I hope that liberals are required to fly with such airlines. But if things work as usual, they get away with talking a good game but not having to get their hands dirty. All they do so while condemning the unwashed masses. Similar to the Obama birthday bash.


    1. One of the avowed leftist professionals told us that he got his adult children vaccinated when they were only vaccinating the old and sick. He said it was always helpful to know the right people.

      Time passed, and there was a news article saying that the vaccine was open to everyone. His tone changed, and he said some people never wait for their turn.

      There is too much hypocrisy on the left.

    2. To Antonio, August 10, 2021 at 2:04 PM:
      re: “they get away with talking a good game but not having to get their hands dirty.”
      Back in the day (when I still lived in the U.S. and the Vietnam War raged on),
      this phenomenon was labeled “lip-service liberals”, a term that could bear resurrection these days…

  7. Kind of reminds me of the old cargo cults which sprang up in the South Pacific after WW 2.

    What could possibly go wrong?

    Kind of akin to decriminalizing fare beating in the subway because some groups can’t seem to comply. Or allowing others to burn buildings and desicrate statues, all in the name of social justice.

    I guess eliminating standards and laws are part of the elimination of systematic racism and will result in a much more educated and law abiding society.

    Again what could possibly go wrong?

    And if you disagree, it means you are a horrible bigot.


  8. And the dumbing down continues. Marx has got to be giggling in his grave.

  9. Reading, writing and math are the basis for any civilization. Teachers are now complicit in the BLM/Antifa/CRT agenda of wiping out Western civilization. One wonders what they’ll replace it with, since their only logical choices seem to be African or South American native cultures. So, we should return to seeking medical help from shamans; replace reading and writing with oral narrative; start living in huts and caves; replace modern government with tribal chiefs who will war continuously with one another; tear down the shopping malls and get back to hunting and gathering; and definitely get rid of our cell phones and computers, after all, they’re all products of Western civilization, and therefore racist. The teachers’ unions are collecting millions of dollars, even as teachers refuse to do their job, or, even worse, publicly admit that they are colossal failures. And to lump all minorities into one collective “failed” category does a huge disservice to those minorities who work hard and succeed. The black middle and upper middle classes are America’s best-kept secret — because we wouldn’t want to spoil the narrative of the oppressed black victims of white supremacy.

    1. One wonders what they’ll replace it with, since their only logical choices seem to be African or South American native cultures. — giocon1

      I’m looking forward to the return of Aztec ritual sacrifice and cannibal feasts….

  10. In years to come, the US will be boasting it has the highest college graduates in the world.
    And the rest of the world will be laughing at us as the majority of those grads have elementary or jr. high school reading comprehension levels. Writing not far behind. Dont mention math!

    Who would hire someone despite having the degrees, cannot do the job?

    What next? Legislate all companies in the US have to have a certain percentage of their employees graduates from these institutions?

  11. Every business in this country produces something that is measured against a standard for excellence. They measure and monitor business processes to make improvements that lead to consistent output excellence. Businesses have competition and if they fall short of these standards, they risk going out of business. The education industry doesn’t work that way. They’ve got a guaranteed revenue stream. They define the standards and their “customers” and “end users” get whatever they get. This is worse than third world education. At least they still have standards.

    1. Olly,
      “Businesses have competition and if they fall short of these standards, they risk going out of business.”

      Competition doesn’t create the standards of excellence. The excellence is an ideal and you compare how closely you align to it. The competition can be against yourself and how closely and consistently you meet it.

      Too many schools have forgotten what a well-educated person should know, do, and embody.

      1. Here we go again.

        Competition doesn’t create the standards of excellence.

        I didn’t say it did. Customers will typically define it. Businesses will meet or exceed those standards or risk going out of business. As I said, the public education industry doesn’t seem to operate on that principle.

        1. Olly,
          “Customers will typically define it.”

          That is not the only way to define excellence. They can recognize excellence but they aren’t exactly the ones defining it.

          Michelangelo saw the angel in the marble and carved until he set it free. He worked to achieve his mastery. His guidance was not exactly set by the Catholic church or rich families. I’m pretty sure he thought very little about whatever competition he had.

          1. Then again, art is indeed in the eye of the beholder. How about this when referring to a businesses excellence: repeat customers ultimately decide if the business meets their expectations.

          2. That is not the only way to define excellence. They can recognize excellence but they aren’t exactly the ones defining it.

            Once again, I didn’t say it was the only way. I’ve been doing, teaching, consulting on business process management for 30 years. For a business that monitors sales and market share, they know who is defining quality and excellence.

            Why do you insist on correcting me on comments I never made?

            1. Olly,
              I didn’t mean to upset you, nor do I mean to “correct” you. If I misunderstood you, I apologize. I was trying to explore the ways excellence is defined. The ways you have outlined certainly can be an element.

              The education industry does not automatically work in this way: “The education industry doesn’t work that way. They’ve got a guaranteed revenue stream. They define the standards and their “customers” and “end users” get whatever they get.” Maybe in some (far too many?) places it does, but where people are more engaged and have high expectations themselves, the schools typically reflect the high standards of the people in the communities.

  12. Just wait until those illiterate kids get swept up into “woke” medical schools that have also reduced standards, and then hired by “woke” city hospitals looking for a more “diverse” racial mix. What could possibly go wrong? No need to worry about liability lawsuits, because all those new illiterate “woke” lawyers won’t be able to bring a case to court. This is what Democrats call a win-win.

    1. giocon1:

      If you have time, you should look at the Los Angeles Times archive on its investigative reporting on King-Drew Medical Center. They decided that the hospital would preferentially hire black people. Skin color superseded meritocracy.

      The hospital was repeatedly warned because it had an astronomical number of medical mistakes, pharmacy mistakes, and patient deaths. A chair was the most dangerous object in the hospital. A staggering number of staff fell out of chairs and went on disability. There were surgeons who were billing in excess of 24 hours a day, while playing golf. Patients died in ER waiting rooms. Patients died from getting the wrong mediation or botched surgeries or substandard nursing care.

      The hospital was warned that it would lose its accreditation.

      Left activists proclaimed that it was a racist smear against a black operated hospital. They rallied the community to stand behind the hospital that was actively killing them.

      The hospital eventually did lose its accreditation. I stopped following the story after its sad conclusion, so I don’t know what happened after.

      If you want to know what happens when skin-deep diversity replaces meritocracy, look no further than King-Drew Medical Center. Death is what happens.

      Here are a few of the articles:


    2. Giocon, no need to worry about woke lawyers not being able to bring a case to court. Recent news is that Biden is appointing judges at fastest pace in history, and the TOP criterion is color of skin or if LBGTQIA+. So there will be many judges that won’t know how to read or write or analyze law/precedent either.

  13. In the town I grew up in there were two private schools: Catholic and Nazarene. One day my mom asked me why the private school grads always got the jobs first. I replied, “That’s easy, the employers know that they are generally polite, proficient in reading and math, and will show-up on time without tattoos and purple hair.” I expect that trend will only accelerate. Why will employers gamble on public school graduates who may very well be incompetent in basic functions?

  14. Do you remember the promise that Common Core would lead to equality in education, and improved performance.

    Instead, our nation’s graduates are less college ready than ever, even before the pandemic hit.

    In what way does removing performance standards help minorities? Does it help them to have a high school degree yet not be able to do the basic minimum in reading, writing, and math?

    In what way does doing away with education tracks for the academically gifted help minorities? How does preventing students of any race to achieve their fullest potential help anyone?

    The books 1984, Animal Farm, and Fahrenheit 451 should be required reading. Perhaps the gifted students should be implanted with a neural disrupter so that they become incapable of having above average thoughts. Only the most clumsy should be allowed to become professional dancers. Only those with a speech impediment or stutter should be allowed to anchor the news. Thought Police.

    Our nation and our culture is failing too many public education students.

    1. Karen,

      My dad, who taught math at the community college for 30 years, used to tell me a big part of high school failure is the result of the colleges. The colleges lowered their standards and started offering remedial courses. These were concepts that you used to have already to prepare for college. But the colleges figured out that if they lowered their standards and basically taught what was supposed to be learned in H.S., they could get another semester or two out of the kids which meant more money. My dad hated teaching any remedial math, not because he was a snob, but because he couldn’t deal with the blank stares he would get explaining 2+2=4. Blank stares teaching differential equations made sense, rudimentary math.

      The fact is, there is no pressure on the public schools to try to do better.

      1. “The fact is, there is no pressure on the public schools to try to do better.”

        That’s what parents and community members are for.

        It will require persistence, though. Some districts like to obscure their inadequacies.

        1. How can parents put pressure on a public school system that protects its employees against any performance requirements. Until they allow parent to remove their money from the system, nothing will change.

          1. Jim22,
            “How can parents put pressure on a public school system that protects its employees against any performance requirements.”

            How do they do this? Administrators aren’t protected in the same way. Some of the problems in public schools fall on administrators.

            Parents can put pressure on the school board to improve things. I suspect that school board members too often lack the perspectives of parents because not enough parents attend school board meetings or communicate with the board members.

    2. The film Harrison Bergeron was iconic at demonstrating the stupidity of doing away with meritocracy.

  15. Is thu Capitol of Portlend Oregan in the Slate of Oregen plieas telll most of us hows we goin to nos whose toilet to use if wes cant reads zie signs on zie dour. guesses wes have to ask a teachr. I am onle a white buoy whoos wants to bee zies president sum day.

  16. Another ill-advised move in a another Democrat controlled state. Eliminate programs and schools for the gifted and do away with testing or achievement requirements in the name of “equity.” This, because the Ds making these awful decisions assume youngsters “of color” are no match for “white” and “Asian” students. (Blaming the move in Oregon on the CCPvirus is simply and excuse to do harm.) Forget reading, writing and arithmetic – while emphasizing American Marxism, Project 1619 and Critical Race Crap. More evidence of the dumbing down of the USA!

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