The Oregon Board of Education has approved lower high school graduation standards through the school year 2027-28.
In 2021, former Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill temporarily waiving reading, writing and math requirements for high school graduates. Brown’s office said the standards would benefit “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,” a spokesperson for the governor also said at the time.
Now, the Oregon State Board of Education (OSBE) unanimously voted to extend those lower standards until 2027-28.
“We are unable to ethically make a different decision at this point,” said Guadalupe Martinez Zapata, chair of the OSBE. “It is also unethical for us to continue to require this when we know it can continue to cause harm and has had no change in how students are performing.”
Zapata previously claimed that conversations around graduation requirements are charged with racism and “bigotry.”
However, not all parents agreed with the decision.
“Tests measure whether an Oregon student has learned, and the Oregon Business Council is saying that students are coming out of high school not prepared,” parent Mary Miller told the OSBE at their recent meeting.
“Oregon is suspending the test for political reasons,” Miller continued. “They have put a lot of activism into the curriculum. They don’t have time to teach basics anymore because they are substituting in new language arts articles, new tribal history ethnic studies.”
While overall high school graduation rates are on the rise, data shows that some minority groups have been harmed by the changes.
Between 2018-19 and 2021-22, some ethnic minorities – such as African American and Latino – increased graduation rates by 2-3% in Oregon. However, multiracial and Asian students experienced slight declines. The largest changes were among American Indian/Native Alaskans (+4%) and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders (-3%).
And according to the state’s most recent report card, only 47% of high school students are proficient in English Language Arts. Just 20% are proficient in math.
Christine Drazan, former state house minority leader and gubernatorial candidate, criticized the OSBE’s decision.
“It’s clear that the Board works for the Governor, not Oregonians,” Drazan said in a statement. “That fact that there was not one dissenting voice on this vote should be alarming to Oregonians … It’s disappointing that these unelected bureaucrats decided to ignore public comment and continue down a path that neglects their responsibility to help students meet high standards.”
Others echoed a similar sentiment, emphasizing Oregon’s seeming lack of confidence in minority and disadvantaged students.
“When state leaders remove or pause existing graduation requirements without proposing more effective and equitable alternatives, it risks leading Oregonians to believe that our state is lowering expectations to artificially mask disparities and improve outcomes,” said Whitney Grubbs, executive director of Foundations for a Better Oregon.
“This impression sadly reinforces a false and deeply prejudiced narrative that certain student groups are inherently unable to meet high expectations based on their identity, zip code, disability or circumstances,” Grubbs added.