Note that I’m linking here to the Oregon Capital Chronicle, which is I consider a hard-left publication. What you’re reading is as positive a spin on this event as you’re likely to see in the media.

Oregon students won’t have to show added proficiency in basic skills through 2028 to graduate – Oregon Capital Chronicle:

Oregon high schoolers will not need to fulfill an essential skills requirement in order to graduate for at least the next five years.

The Oregon Board of Education on Thursday voted unanimously to pause a decade-old requirement that students show additional proficiencies in reading, writing and other skills on top of taking regular courses in those subjects. The essential skills requirement will be suspended through the 2027-28 school year.

I don’t mind that this decision flies in the face of massive public opposition. That’s not a good argument since what is or isn’t good education policy is hardly something that should be subject to plebiscite. I suspect that most folks opposed to this decision are simply articulating their ongoing frustration with the lack of accountability in public education and the continued suspension of testing is just another brick in the wall (so to speak).

Heck, I’m frustrated too. The Democratic majority in Oregon seemingly refuses to hold anyone accountable for anything. Nobody ultimately benefits from such an approach, and it’s clear that public education students are among the victims. This would matter less, I suppose, if public education weren’t so important. 

The decision followed an earlier decision by the board to suspend the requirements throughout the pandemic due to school closures. It has since received feedback from districts and the Oregon Department of Education that it was burdensome to teachers and students, and that it was being misapplied.

I agree that it is burdensome and misapplied, but this is, to my mind, an argument for testing reform not suspension or abandonment. 

“If I had to distill this into one simple statement, it’s quite simply that they did not work,” Dan Farley, assistant superintendent of research, assessment and data at the agency, told the board Thursday.

A report from the Oregon Department of Education to the Senate Committee on Education in September 2022 recommended ending the requirement, because schools were mostly using students’ state standardized test scores, called the SBAC test, to measure whether they were proficient in essential skills. This was counter to what the requirement was intended to do, said state Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, who was on the state education board when the requirement was approved.

“Having this kind of assessment was not really to show whether or not students could read or write, but rather, could they apply what they were learning to the real world. And their scores on the SBAC are really not indicative of that,” he said.

There seems to be a dispute as to the purpose of the tests. Though the SBAC may be a poor test for determining aptitude, the ability to read or write is exactly what a standardized test has to measure—because many students are graduating without those abilities and we can no longer trust that grades are reflective of even basic skills. 

The education department had hoped students would complete projects, write essays or engage in experiences that measured their ability to use those essential skills – such as listening, critical and analytical thinking, management and teamwork – once they left their classrooms.

This sort of micromanaging of the classroom is at best fantasy. It will never work in practice, and it robs the students and teachers of time essential for focusing on those things, best determined by the teacher, that the student(s) need to work on. 

Overall, graduation rates in Oregon have been on the rise in recent years among all racial and ethnic groups and socio-economic levels. But proficiency in key subjects measured by state and federal standardized tests has not budged.

That’s because Oregon has lowered academic standards to the floor. Graduation rates are now meaningless. 

Farley, the assistant superintendent, reminded the board that Oregon has among the highest credit requirements for graduation in the U.S. Only Connecticut requires students to earn more credits in order to graduate.

“We are as rigorous and as challenging as all other states in the country, and are more so in terms of the credit requirements,” he said.

This is a falsehood wrapped in the truth. Oregon requires more credits than almost all other states—true!—but the classes required to get those credits contain academic standards just above the barest of minimums. Oregon is not rigorous or challenging at all when it comes to public education, which is why standardized testing is a necessary accountability factor.