SALEM, Ore. – A new Oregon law that suspends a requirement for a basic-skills test in math, reading and writing to graduate high school is being praised by advocates as a way to rethink education standards and sharply criticized by others as a misguided effort that will hurt children’s learning in the long run.
Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 744 last month without much attention. The measure temporarily eliminates essential-skills testing through the 2022-2023 school year. That requirement had been put on a hold amid the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the closure of many schools and students to learn remotely.
The Oregon Department of Education has said the new law will allow the state develop more equitable graduation requirements. Officials have been told to compare diploma requirements in different states and find ways to reduce disparities and ensure that graduation requirements are fair.
“Senate Bill 744 does not remove Oregon’s graduation requirements, and it certainly does not remove any requirements that Oregon students learn essential skills,” department spokesman Marc Siegel told Portland TV station KATU.
Rashelle Chase, founder of Mxm Bloc, an advocacy group led by Black women and focused on education and other social justice issues, said certain children struggle with exams and had been hurt by the testing requirements.
“Under the best of circumstances, in totally normal times with no pandemic, there are a number of children who don’t test well," Chase said, including children of color, those in need of special education, low-income students and early language learners. She added that it's “not a deficit on the part of those children.”
But others say testing is an important tool to assess students’ learning and that eliminating the requirement could be hurtful.
“They serve as checkpoints so that any kids who need extra help in getting those extra requirements, we can get them extra help to make sure they can graduate with the same proficiency as their peers,” said MacKensey Pulliam, founder of the Oregon Moms Union.