Oregon’s Governor Nixes Math, Reading, and Writing Proficiency Standards

AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus, File

As a former public high school teacher, I am absolutely shocked and appalled that Oregon has abandoned its statewide math, reading, and writing proficiency standards for high school graduates.

On July 14, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill that suspends the proficiency standards for high school graduates for three years.

According to Charles Boyle, a spokesman for the governor, “SB 744 gives us an opportunity to review our graduation requirements and make sure our assessments can truly assess all students’ learning.”

Boyle added, “In the meantime, it gives Oregon students and the education community a chance to regroup after a year and a half of disruption caused by the pandemic.”

That is a rather ridiculous defense of the bill.

First, the 18-month “disruption” of in-person learning in Oregon’s public schools was not caused by the pandemic. It was caused by politicians, like Gov. Brown.

We know this because private schools remained open in Oregon throughout the duration of the pandemic. We also know that public schools in several states, such as Florida, remained open for in-person learning over the past 18 months, as well.

Second, requiring all students to be able to perform basic math, reading, and writing skills before they are eligible to graduate is a no-brainer.

If Oregon’s public high schools are not able to ensure that 18-year-olds can read, write, and perform simple math, how will these students fare in today’s hyper-competitive world?

Unfortunately, Oregon’s governor and public school officials seem to not care about the career and life prospects of the children who attend their public schools.

That is not only disappointing. It is a dereliction of their most basic duty.

Oregon’s House Republican Leader Christine Drazan expressed her dismay with the new law, saying, “I worry that by adopting this bill, we’re giving up on our kids.”

Drazan is right.

By dropping the requirements for graduation, Oregon’s public school leaders are doing a disservice to all students.

The goal of public schools is to prepare students for success in life. Abandoning age-old requirements for reading, writing, and math sets students up for failure in life.

In almost every career field, reading and writing, or communicating ideas in general, are requisite skills. This has been made even more necessary given the fact that America’s economy is more service-based than it was even a few decades ago.

As automation increases, and unskilled labor goes the way of the dinosaurs, America’s youth will need to be able to read, write, communicate ideas, and perform basic math if they are to thrive in modern society.

Yet, that doesn’t seem to resonate with the very people in charge of the state’s public school system.

Instead, the so-called leaders of Oregon’s failing public schools would rather lower the bar, erasing all accountability in the process.

Perhaps worst of all is that Oregon’s public schools are already doing a terrible job educating the state’s students.

According to a 2021 state-by-state education analysis by Wallethub, Oregon ranks 42nd among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Yet, instead of raising the bar, Oregon’s “solution” is to remove the bar entirely.

Perhaps Oregon’s governor and public school leaders should consider policies that have a proven track record of success.

For instance, school choice would be a benefit for any and all Oregon children stuck in low-performing public schools.

Currently, Oregon spends $11,920 per pupil per year. Why not issue the $11,920 directly to parents, allowing them to choose the school that best meets the unique needs and circumstances of their children?

For decades, the public school system in Oregon (and throughout the nation) has held a near-monopoly on education. During that time, student scores on math, reading, and writing have decreased.

Suspending proficiency tests in these core subjects will not help at all. On the other hand, raising achievement standards and implementing school choice would be a boon to all Oregon families.

Chris Talgo ([email protected]) is senior editor at The Heartland Institute.