Mastery in Reading, Writing, and Math No Longer Mandatory in Oregon High Schools

High school students in Oregon no longer need to demonstrate mastery in reading, writing, and math to graduate. 

This decision, first introduced amid the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, has been extended by the Oregon State Board of Education for another five years until 2029. This follows a unanimous agreement to continue with the policy.

Reconsidering Assessment Metrics

The conventional method involves evaluating students through standardized tests or intricate assignments judged by teachers against the state’s set standards. It has been deemed problematic by the board.

The argument put forth suggests that such assessment techniques disproportionately hinder students of color, those with disabilities, or those learning English as a second language. Despite this, the standardized tests will not be entirely discarded; they will merely no longer determine if a student is eligible to graduate.

In the words of Vicky Lopez Sanchez, a state board member, the suspension does not extend to assessments as such. The board is halting the application of these tests as a graduation requirement, which she believes to be in the best interest of students in Oregon.

A Historical Perspective on Standardized Testing in the U.S.

The foundational standardized testing model, which includes the mastery of reading, writing, and math, has deep roots in American education. The first large-scale standardized testing in the United States took place in the mid-19th century, with the implementation of the Common School Movement.

Yet, the application of large-scale standardized testing began in earnest during World War I, when the U.S. Army used intelligence tests to assign draftees to appropriate roles. Following the war, this approach was adapted for use in schools, marking the birth of the modern testing era.

In the 1980s, a report known as A Nation at Risk underscored the need for higher standards and accountability in education. This led to an even greater emphasis on standardized testing.

Around the mid-20th century, the focus on this method of academic evaluation increased significantly, with reading, writing, and math deemed essential subjects for students to be proficient in. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 further amplified the trend, mandating annual testing in reading and math for students in grades 3-8 and once during high school.

As such, the recent decision by the Oregon State Board of Education marks a significant deviation from a long-standing tradition of standardized testing in American education.

Opposing Views on the New Mandate

Critics of this decision argue that dropping these requirements risks undermining the value of an Oregon high school diploma. They assert that providing additional instruction to academically struggling students in writing and math has proven beneficial.

Proponents argue that forcing students to extend their study time for these subjects limits opportunities to take electives. Additionally, it doesn’t necessarily correlate with performance after graduation.

Guadalupe Martínez Zapata, the Chairwoman of the Board of Education, emphasized the ethical considerations behind the decision. She stated that it would be unethical to persist with a requirement that potentially causes harm and has shown no clear positive impact on student success.

Public Sentiment and Other Graduation Requirements

The shift in policy has prompted widespread public response, with a significant number of people voicing support for maintaining the existing requirements.

However, mastery in these subjects is not the only graduation requirement. Students must still accumulate a certain number of credits and develop a comprehensive educational plan to guide their post-high school goals.

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This article was produced by TPR Teaching.

Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.

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