Oregon Schools Eliminate Proficiency Requirements in Math and English for Students

Two years ago, we discussed how Oregon schools solved declining scores by eliminating their requirements that graduates actually attain levels of proficiency in basic subjects like math and English. In 2021, the changes were portrayed as just a temporary measure due to the pandemic. However, the state just extended it five more years.  It declared that such proficiency tests are unfair to students of color. So, rather than give these students the level of education needed to excel in the modern workplace, schools will now process them out with degrees and call it social progress. 

Public schools across the country continue to fail inner city children and appear to be be giving up on reversing this trend.  In Baltimore, a survey found that forty percent of schools did not have a single student proficient in math. Rather than reverse that trend, the schools are just waiving the tests and graduating the students.

What is so frustrating is reading about failing school systems waiving proficiency and claiming that it is better for minority students.

American education faces the perfect storm. Despite record expenditures on public schools, we are still effectively abandoning students, particularly minority students, in teaching the basic 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.

Oregon board members said proficiency is now unnecessary and harmed minority students since higher rates of students of color failed to reach these levels, The Oregonian reported. The question is how the board is defining what is necessary. If any of these students hope to escape cycles of poverty, they have to be able to do better than the status quo. These boards are condemning them to the same endless cycle.

These proficiency standards were developed by academics to establish what they viewed as the education needed to excel in our society. Now, the boards are simply downgraded to meet their own lack of academic performance. State Sen. Michael Dembrow told the Oregon Capital Chronicle insists “I think there’s an assumption here that teachers are just graduating students, who don’t have the necessary competencies and I don’t know what the justification is for that.”

The point is that these students do not need to meet some low level of competence in order to be able to aspire to more than menial or low-level positions.

The move in Oregon occurs at the same time as a national effort to eliminate standardized testing and scores on every level of our educational system. For example, 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.

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, but 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.

123 thoughts on “Oregon Schools Eliminate Proficiency Requirements in Math and English for Students”

  1. It gets better.. New York City public schools eliminated english proficiency tests for prospective teachers years ago because blacks and hispanics could not pass the tests at a much much higher rate than whites.

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