Community colleges and state universities agree to waive placements tests for next two school years

BECKOregon high school students just received a new academic incentive to take the standardized Smarter Balanced tests debuting this spring.

The Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) — a volunteer board that advises the state’s Legislature and governor — announced last week that, for at least the next two academic years, 17 community colleges and seven state universities will waive placement testing for high school 11th-graders who score a 3 or higher on their Smarter Balanced tests and continue to meet academic standards in 12th grade.

“This action by our higher education partners recognizes the value of our students’ demonstration of achievement,” said Heather Beck, superintendent of the Lake Oswego School District.

Colleges typically use placement tests to determine where first-year students should start their college-level math and English/language arts studies. The waivers based on Smarter Balanced scores will not affect college admission, but students can use those scores instead of taking the placement tests.

This spring, students in grades three through eight and high school juniors are taking the Smarter Balanced tests, which replace Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) testing and are designed to measure whether students are meeting Common Core standards.

Almost 200 students at LOHS have asked to opt out of the Smarter Balanced tests in response to a campaign by the LOHS Student Union, a group not affiliated with the school. Student Union members say the Smarter Balanced tests require educators to “teach to the test.” Beck says the tests offer a way of gauging student performance, allowing teachers to adjust their lessons accordingly.

“For our students, this is a very positive development, as they can now see how their assessment scores can directly impact their future academic experiences, providing a more personalized connection to the tests they take,” Beck said. “We are very pleased that Oregon’s higher education leaders will provide this benefit to our many high-achieving students.”

The waivers’ impact will vary depending on the school. For example, Oregon State University will continue to require incoming freshmen to take the math placement exam, said Noah Buckley, director of admissions.

“Students who meet the criteria set forth in the recently signed Smarter Balanced agreement will be allowed to enroll in a college-level math course at OSU,” Buckley said, “but we believe it is important that we measure a student’s abilities just prior to enrollment so that we may adequately advise students on their abilities and likelihood of success in OSU coursework available to them.”

OSU does not have remedial or non-credit writing courses that are required based on a placement test, he added.

Jim Rawlins, the director of admissions at the University of Oregon, said Smarter Balanced scores will not replace placement tests but will serve as “another tool in the tool kit” to demonstrate students’ college readiness.

“From everything we’ve heard so far, we have reason to believe it’s going to be a very helpful test score to provide information on the student,” Rawlins said.

The Oregon public university agreement requires that students complete an appropriate math or English/language arts course in 12th grade (with a grade of B or better for students who scored a 3 on the Smarter Balanced tests). The Oregon community college agreement requires students to complete college-level credits in math and/or English during senior year. That could be done a few ways, including dual credit, early college and advanced placement exams.

Administrators of Oregon’s three-year Core to College Grant spearheaded these agreements, which were developed through collaboration among secondary and postsecondary leaders and stakeholders. Oregon was one of 10 states awarded the grant to strengthen the bridge between postsecondary and K-12 education, said an email from the Oregon Department of Education.

“These agreements are a strong step forward in 11-14 (high school-college) alignment and signal to students that their hard work on the Smarter Balanced assessments and their coursework rigor in the 12th grade have concrete benefits at a college level,” said HECC Executive Director Ben Cannon in a written statement.

Contact Jillian Daley at 503-636-1281 ext. 109 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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