High schoolers in Oregon won’t need to demonstrate basic competency in reading, writing or math in order to graduate for at least five more years because, according to education officials, such requirements are unnecessary and disproportionately harm students of color.
“At some point … our diploma is going to end up looking a lot more like a participation prize than an actual certificate that shows that someone actually is prepared to go pursue their best future,” former Oregon gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan told Fox News.
The essential skills requirement has been on pause since the coronavirus pandemic, and last week the Oregon State Board of Education voted unanimously to continue suspending the graduation requirement through the 2027-2028 school year.
Under the requirement, 11th graders had to demonstrate competence in essential subjects through a standardized test or work samples. Students who failed to meet expectations were required to take extra math and writing classes in their senior year — thus missing an elective class — in order to graduate.
Board members said the standards were unnecessary and harmed marginalized students since higher rates of students of color, students with disabilities and students learning English as a second language ended up having to take the extra step to prove they deserved a diploma, The Oregonian reported.
Hundreds of people submitted public comments opposing the move and urging the board to reinstate the standards. Many of the comments were generated from a call to action from Drazan’s advocacy group, A New Direction Oregon.
Board Chair Guadalupe Martinez Zapata previously described the opposition as a “campaign of misinformation” and “artistic quality mental acrobatics.”
“If only they weren’t automatically discredited by the myopic analysis and bigotry that follows them,” Martinez Zapata said in a late September meeting, adding that “rhetoric about cultural and social norms being the underlying reason for underperformance on assessments by systemically marginalized students” was reminiscent of “racial superiority arguments.”
“It is not bigoted, it is not racist to want your student to be able to actually learn,” said Drazan, who ran as a Republican for governor in Oregon last year, losing to Democrat Tina Kotek by less than 4% of the vote.
Oregon has one of the lowest graduation rates compared to other states, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting, but also has among the most rigorous credit requirements.
“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,” state Sen. Michael Dembrow told the Oregon Capital Chronicle. Dembrow was on the Board of Education in 2008 when the essential skills requirement was initially approved.
But Drazan argued Oregon is chipping away at standards across the board, with state education officials mulling “equity grading” in lieu of the traditional A to F scale.
“They are now moving forward with an agenda that says if you cheat, you can’t be flunked. If you don’t show up, you don’t get a zero,” she said. “They’re not going to have homework that they grade because having homework somehow they view as being inequitable.”
Drazan encouraged concerned parents to plead their case to Kotek’s office, which appoints education board members.
“She needs to make the board more responsive to the concerns of families, students and stakeholders than they are at this point,” Drazan said.