In Oregon, misplaced priorities have dropped our state to near bottom nationally, in terms of education outcomes.The recent decision to no longer verify that Oregon high school graduates can read, write, or perform arithmetic at high school level farther diminishes the value of Oregon's high school diploma. Awarding a high school diploma regardless of academic success sends a powerful message to students, parents, teachers and employers that failure is an option in Oregon's public schools.Although this new policy is advertised as a temporary response to inadequate distance learning during the COVID-19 school shutdown, there has been mounting pressure by activist groups during the past several years to eliminate standardized tests needed to graduate. I believe this temporary measure is part of a long-term strategy to make this policy permanent.One of the common themes expressed by those who advocated for this new policy seems to be a belief that many students — especially our at-risk and BIPOC students — are incapable of passing these standardized tests.As a Hispanic woman, a parent, and someone who worked hard to catch up with my peers in high school, I find this narrative insulting.I fear that we have inadvertently fallen into the trap that former president George W. Bush described as the soft bigotry of low expectations. "If you have low expectations, you're going to get lousy results," he said. "We must not tolerate a system that gives up on people."Why are so many children failing these standardize tests? It's not because the tests are too difficult or unnecessary. Students are failing these tests because Oregon's education system is unable to fulfill its mission to educate all of Oregon's children, regardless of race, ethnicity or first language.To reverse this trend in Oregon and make public education and academic excellence a top priority in our state, we need legislation and programs that address achievement gaps and give students every opportunity to earn their high school diploma.Here are some key elements of my plan to help Oregon regain the leadership that it once enjoyed in public education:• Offer necessary remedial courses in college at no cost to the student, including all of the support systems needed, such as tutoring and bilingual support.• Promote meaningful career technical education through a Statewide Youth Apprenticeship Model that provides opportunities for students to work in their industry of choice, earn academic credit, and learn a trade — beginning in 11th grade.• Reduce the cost of college education by ensuring that all credits are transferrable in full between any community college or public university in the state.• Provide support for parents with parent/guardian workshops that focus on the family and give parents ways to support academic excellence.• Provide more support for teachers through small workgroups led by instructors who can provide the individualized attention some students need.I believe that all children are capable of achieving academic success and that under the right leadership Oregon will have a great public education system once again. That begins by sending the message that academic failure will no longer be an option in our great state.Jessica Gomez of Medford is a candidate for governor in the Republican primary.
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