Posted on October 20, 2023

Oregon Again Says Students Don’t Need to Prove Mastery of Reading, Writing or Math to Graduate

Sami Edge, The Oregonian, October 19, 2023

Oregon high school students won’t have to prove basic mastery of reading, writing or math to graduate from high school until at least 2029, the state Board of Education decided unanimously on Thursday, extending the pause on the controversial graduation requirement that began in 2020.

The vote went against the desires of dozens of Oregonians who submitted public comments insisting the standards should be reinstated, including former Republican gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan. Backlash against the lowered standard had already delayed the vote, originally slated to take place in September.

Opponents argued that pausing the requirement devalues an Oregon diploma. Giving students with low academic skills extra instruction in writing and math, which most high schools did in response to the graduation rules, helped them, they have argued.

But leaders at the Oregon Department of Education and members of the state school board said requiring all students to pass one of several standardized tests or create an in-depth assignment their teacher judged as meeting state standards was a harmful hurdle for historically marginalized students, a misuse of state tests and did not translate to meaningful improvements in students’ post high school success.

Higher rates of students of color, students learning English as a second language and students with disabilities ended up having to take intensive senior-year writing and math classes to prove they deserved a diploma. That denied those students the opportunity to take an elective, despite the lack of evidence the extra academic work helped them in the workplace or at college, they said.


Proving mastery of reading, writing and math on one of many standardized tests or a teacher-judged in-depth assignment was one of several Oregon graduation requirements. Students also have to earn a prescribed number of credits and complete an education plan that maps out how they can achieve post high-school goals.

During the pandemic, Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill freezing the proficiency requirement, as standardized tests weren’t happening amid school closures. Lawmakers decided to order a more comprehensive review of graduation requirements.

After broad outreach to families, educators, students and employers, with a particular focus on people of color, the Oregon Department of Education recommended new graduation recommendations about a year ago. One of those was to scrap the requirement to show mastery of reading, writing and math. State lawmakers have not acted on that recommendation, and the department in the meantime asked the state board to continue its pause through at least the 2027-28 school year.

Speaking of the academic mastery requirements, Dan Farley, assistant superintendent of research and data for the department, told the state board Thursday, “They did not work. What they were designed to do is protect student interests. We have no evidence that they did that.”

Farley pointed to a 2021 analysis by Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission that found no clear evidence that implementing the proficiency standards improved the performance of Oregon high school graduates during their first year of community college or university classes. {snip}