Oregon governor signs law that graduates students without proof they can read, write, or do math

Oregon’s lockdown-loving Democrat Gov. Kate Brown has quietly signed a law that drops reading, writing, and math proficiency requirements as a condition for obtaining a high school diploma in the state.

Concepts such as identity politics and equity, which have gained traction in the progressive education sector particularly in blue states, are apparently the underlying motivations.

Brown signed SB 744 — which was supported nearly unanimously by Democrats — back in mid-July, but reportedly never held a signing ceremony, issued a press release, or actually made any public comment about the legislation. It was also a late entry into the legislative database.

The law reportedly suspends the “essential skills graduation requirement” at least until 2024 or perhaps through 2027 while the state’s education department conducts a review and makes recommendations for the high school diploma.

The state had already put the graduation requirements, which only requires freshman/sophomore-level skills, on hold during the pandemic.

The law appears to be another example where many educators and Democrats appear to be focused on social justice initiatives rather than training students from all backgrounds in the actual skills that they need to productively compete in the marketplace.

Lowering academic standards when the U.S. is trying to economically compete with China and other world powers also seems ill-timed.

Gov. Brown’s deputy communications director attempted to provide the rationale for the measure, The Oregonian news outlet reported:

“[Charles] Boyle said in an emailed statement that suspending the reading, writing and math proficiency requirements while the state develops new graduation standards will benefit ‘Oregon’s Black, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color.’

“‘Leaders from those communities have advocated time and again for equitable graduation standards, along with expanded learning opportunities and supports,’ Boyle wrote.”

Previously, Oregon students had to demonstrate their proficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetic by taking a standardized test or producing “a portfolio” of work, such as a thorough classroom project, rather than just passing the required number of courses.

“The requirement that students demonstrate freshman- to sophomore-level skills in reading, writing and, particularly, math led many high schools to create workshop-style courses to help students strengthen their skills and create evidence of mastery. Most of those courses have been discontinued since the skills requirement was paused during the pandemic before lawmakers killed it entirely,” The Oregonian added.

Much of the support for lowering standards apparently crystalized around opposition to standardized testing. Again, Oregon does not mandate a particular test regime, so the Oregon education system seemingly avoided penalizing qualified students who aren’t necessarily good test-takers.

Republicans, such as Oregon’s House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, opposed the watering down of academic standards, ABC Portland affiliate KATU reported.

“The approach for Senate Bill 744 is to, in fact, lower our expectations for our kids. This is the wrong time to do that, when we have had this year of social isolation and lost learning. It’s the wrong thing to do in this moment.”

“If it had just been a testing bill, then I would have been supportive of it, but what we were doing was taking a list of essential skills and saying we’re not going to hold our kids to these standards anymore,” Drazan added.

“Oregon education officials have long insisted they would not impose new graduation requirements on students who have already begun high school. New requirements would not take effect until the class of 2027. That means at least five more classes could graduate without demonstrating proficiency in math and writing,” the Post Millennial noted.

The America Out Loud website gives the proficiency-eliminating law a failing grade:

Critics rightly worry that the real purpose of initiatives like Oregon’s Senate Bill 744 is to enable powerful teachers’ unions to declare more and more students proficient without being accountable for preparing them with essential skills to compete in an increasingly complex and challenging world.

Programs that attempt to cover poor teaching performance by artificially increasing graduation rates reduce a high school diploma to little more than a participation trophy.

Doing so under cover of ”equity” is a great injustice to all students – regardless of race or ethnicity – as well as a grave disservice to their larger local and national communities.

Robert Jonathan

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