Oregon Governor Kate Brown recently signed a bill that says that high school students do not have to prove they can write, read or do the math before graduating.
Senate Bill 744, which passed in June, was signed into law by Gov. Brown, suspending the proficiency requirements and essential skills testing for students through the 2022-2023 school year.
The requirement had been put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic, during which many students were learning remotely. The suspension was part of Brown’s Stay Home, Save Lives order.
Brown signed the bill with no fanfare, in private. She did not issue a news release on July 14, and the law was not added to the state’s database until July 29, according to The Oregonian.
Secretary of the Senate Lori Brocker said that the legislative database was not updated on time because the staffer who updates the database was out with medical issues for 15 days.
According to an email to media outlets, spokesperson for the governor Charles Boyle said that the new standards for graduation would help Oregon’s “Black, Latino, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal and students of color.”
State education officials have been tasked with comparing diploma requirements in different states to help find ways to ensure that graduation requirements are fair.
Boyle further explained that leaders from affected communities have advocated “time and time again for equitable graduation standards, along with expanded learning opportunities and supports.”
Supporters of the bill say that measuring existing skills was an unfair advantage to students who do not test well.
According to the Washington Examiner, Democrats have come out solidly favor the bill’s extension. However, supporters face opposition from Republicans who have come out against it, saying it lowers academic standards.
Republicans push back
The Oregon Department of Education says it supports the law to rethink education standards and “level the playing field” for minorities.
The bill, SB744, passed both chambers of the Oregon legislature in June, mostly along party lines.
Rashelle Chase is the founder of Mxm Bloc, an advocacy group led by black women who are focused on social justice issues and education. She explains that some children have a hard time and struggle with exams and meeting 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,” said Chase.
She included students in special education, children of color, low-income students, and early language learners as those experiencing the most difficulty.
Chase added that it’s “not a deficit on the part of those children.”
Those opposed to the law say that testing is a crucial tool when used to assess students’ learning and feel that eliminating requirements could be hurtful.
“They serve as checkpoints, so that any kids who need extra help in getting those extra requirements, we can get the extra help to make sure they can graduate with the same proficiency as their peers,” said Oregon Moms Union founder MacKensey Pulliam.