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”

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  2. This has been the de facto case in California for years. Students entering California State University, for example, needed to take remedial math, reading, writing courses before they could take regular courses.

    https://www.sacbee.com › capitol-alert › article176642556

    Oct 3, 2017 — 40 percent of CSU students take remedial classes…

    That policy was changed in late 2017, such that these “remedial” students could skip the remedial courses and immediately take “regular” college courses.

    CSU dumping remedial classes won’t fix the problem of …https://www.ocregister.com › 2017/08/10 › csu-dumpin…
    Aug 10, 2017 — “The idea that students have to take courses that don’t count toward … Nearly 40 percent of incoming CSU freshmen are required to take …

    1. subject change…Judge Rules Dominion Case Can Proceed Against Trump Allies…IMO it is just some lawyer letting lawyers win and make millions…they might as well sue ALL 125 million Americans who are Republicans…

  3. Employers will no longer be a sue for discrimination.ble to infer from a diploma that the candidate has rudimentary abilities, so the burden of determining competence will be put on the employer. Employers will then resort to some form of testing, but the results of the test will be judged to be discriminatory, and they will be sued. Look for even more robotic solutions. Robots can’t yet

  4. Every kid who ever worked hard, studied hard and excelled in school just got told not only does his efforts not matter, but his striving to excel was just them being a lousy little racist.

    Call it what you will but to the kids trying this just took their feet out from under them and worse, told them they were somehow evil.

    Bills like this should sicken any thinking adult, regardless of party affiliation or ideology.

  5. Tony made a good statement. The plan is to leave every child behind. However, it goes even further. Leave every child dumb and pregnant, give them their monthly stipend and go and collect their vote. They assume that generational poverty is just the way of the world so why not take advantage of it to line their pockets. In Venezuela Hugo Chavez gave out food vouchers at the polling places. The Democrats want to feed people inside one hundred feet of a polling place. What’s the difference?

  6. “. . . students who lack proficiency in basic subjects are being sent out into society . . .”

    When the communist Khmer Rouge enslaved Cambodia, they murdered those who wore glasses. Glasses, they concluded, are a sign that the person is an intellectual — and thus a threat to the Revolution.

    The modern Left has discovered a more effective strategy of vanquishing that “threat” — ensure that children never wear glasses.

  7. A friend of mine is the Chief Medical Officer at the states largest teaching hospital. He relayed to me that many new medical school graduates lack enough competency to complete a residency program. He believes the education system passes them through to collect their fees instead of focusing on their education. The graduates are then left with large debt and no way to pay it back because they cannot be a doctor. He stated that everyone of them was completely shocked because no one had ever questioned their competency before.

    It sounds like fraud to me when a school pretends to be educating when in reality it is more about their revenue.

  8. Don’t worry. In a successful business the work must be done. If someone does not have the ability to shoulder his share of the load the business must find someone who can do his or her part. Soon no requirements will be allowed to keep a job because the educators who did not educate will need to defend what they have done by scapegoating industry. Just as in the failures of Chicago, Detroit, and San Francisco they have to be blame anyone or anything other than those who have controlled these cities for 50+ years. I’ve heard it said that Republicans get in and then the Democrats have to fix their mess. What’s their excuse for the mess created by Democrats in the major cities controlled by Democrats for over 50 decades. Don’t forget. Nancy Pelosi says don’t worry about no education we’re doing it all for the children.

    1. What’s their excuse for the mess created by Democrats in the major cities controlled by Democrats for over 50 decades.

      Republicans. Democrats have been exposed as the American Marxists. They don’t defend anything. They only attack. They use deceptive tactics such as gaslighting and controlling the language to shift the blame. Their blatant hypocrisy is stunningly effective on their base. There is one truism about the Democratic party, whatever they allege others are doing, dig deeper and you’ll discover that is exactly what they are doing. Case in point: If President Trump’s administration had even hinted at doing what the Biden administration has actually done in the first 6 months of his presidency, he would have been impeached AND removed from office with bipartisan support.

  9. as a retired educator from oregon, I can tell you this is not new. students have arrived at college for years unable to read and write, but having a diploma.

  10. Look at the good side. A future employee will be asked by his employer to write an agenda for the imposition of Critical Race Theory to be presented at the next company meeting. The employee won’t be able to complete his assigned task because first he does not have the ability to read about CRT and secondly he does not have the ability to write about anything. Every silver lining does indeed have have a cloud.

  11. This IS the Slippery Slope many of us talked about years ago. It a;; tarted with “Affirmative Action” and then “Participation Trophies”. And here we are….

  12. When they go to work their employer will definitely grade their performance and they will be woefully unprepared when the answer is to let them go.
    This is the leave every child behind education program.

  13. Why not lower standards for Med students, Airline Pilots, Lawyers, Dentist, the mechanic that works on the breaks of your car, or qualifying for a loan. And here’s the scary one Proctologist, you know the butt doctors. That way we will be able to brag to the world one day and say sure we have the most deaths and poverty in the world by far but you have to admit we have the most Doctors, Airline Piolets, Lawyers, Dentist, brake mechanics and Proctologists you know the butt doctors in the world. Also everyone has a no interest loan that is forgiven before the first payment. And we are the only let me repeat that the only country in the world that issues a college degree of your choice at the boarder. Now mister smarty pants put that in your pipe and smoke it. There!

  14. If you can’t pass a basic skills tests at the end of 4 years of high school, then you should be sent to the Soylent Green tanks.

  15. So, this is the solution for students of color, to simply dumb down the standards for high school graduation?
    When these students try to get a job in the real world, or go on to college, this is going to be “equitable”?
    The only thing equitable about any of this is that all of these students will be assumed to be equally deficient of even the most basic skills.

    1. Inability to read/write or do math at a basic level will constrain these kids to the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. While the school administrators & teachers make their numbers look better, they do no favors to their students. Sad!

  16. Prof. Turley’s description of the results of the 2019 Task Force report says it all. The Standardized Tests do what they were intended to do: predict well the candidate student’s likelihood of success at the university. Since many more student’s apply than can be accepted it is totally reasonable to use these tests and thereby not waste spots on students unlikely to succeed. Logically these tests are not racially discriminatory against, say, blacks, else they would under-predict their success rate, which they don’t.

    It’s just sordid racial politics not to use them. Yes, minority students probably will not thereby be population-proportionally admitted but yet it will benefit them in two ways. (1) Fewer minority students will flunk out feeling bitter and going elsewhere, somewhere they should have gone in the first place, and (2) they will be encouraged to work harder at academic achievement knowing there’s no racial preferences to get them in without that hard work. Stop the nonsense and use these tests and end “Affirmative Action” which obviously is unfairly racially discriminatory – in truth a violation of our civil rights laws.

  17. Employers might start to give basic proficiency tests to interviewees. As a hiring manager, I would actively consider that path.

  18. I support this, it thins out the herd even more. Take responsibility for your own kids education. I have. Private education

  19. As an Oregonian, I am appalled to learn our state has dumbed down high school graduation rates as reported here. But that’s not the only distressing move made here recently. Last year, as the state bar exam approached, presidents of Oregon’s three law schools got together and persuaded the state to waive the rule that, to be licensed as an attorney in Oregon, you would have to pass the state bar exam. The only requirement is graduation from an accredited law school. Taking the bar exam was optional! So much for putting the public interest first.

    1. Marianne, that’s awful. How can that fail to lead to malpractice?

      The removal of standards and meritocracy appears to be a well-established trend at this point.

    2. This is senseless! I guess their students are going to have to stay in the state. If I lived in Oregon, I would make a point to ask for my lawyer’s credentials. If not, then I would move on to another. I am sure that “they” will think of a way to make this hate speech to inquire about the competency of a professional.

      Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for a professional who busted their butt for all those years and not be allowed to measure up and prove their competency?

      Not everyone is cut out for professional school or to practice in a profession. That is why these carefully constructed tests are put in place to protect the consumer.

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