The Oregon State Board of Education has unanimously voted to suspend the essential skills graduation requirement for high school students for the next five years.
Previously, students were mandated to prove their proficiency in math, reading, and writing through standardized test scores to earn a diploma. However, the pandemic halted this practice, as standardized tests ceased during school closures.
Opponents of “essential skills requirements” argue that the mandate disproportionately affects students of color, students with disabilities, and those learning English as a second language. They emphasized that these students often had to undertake additional math and writing classes in their final year to qualify for graduation.
Board member Vicky López Sánchez, dean at Portland Community College, clarified that while the state-mandated standardized tests will continue, they will not decide a student’s graduation eligibility.
She emphasized, “The only thing we are suspending is the inappropriate use of how those assessments were being used.” López Sánchez believes this move is in the best interest of Oregon’s students.
On the other hand, there has been considerable pushback, with hundreds submitting public comments pleading for the board to restore the standards.
Board Chair Guadalupe Martinez Zapata referred to this opposition as a “campaign of misinformation.” In a previous meeting, she compared discussions around cultural and social norms affecting test performances by marginalized students to “racial superiority arguments.”
Christine Drazan, a former gubernatorial candidate, expressed concerns about the direction of Oregon’s education system. “It is not bigoted, it is not racist to want your student to be able to actually learn,” she stated.
Drazan pointed out that this shift in education policies may be leading towards an “equity grading” system as opposed to the traditional grading scales. She criticized potential plans that might allow students to avoid repercussions for cheating or not completing assignments.
This decision by the board has sparked a broader debate about education, standards, and equity in the state of Oregon.