As a disappointing and frustrating year comes to an end for students and parents, the Legislature recently passed Senate Bill 744, which will remove basic graduation requirements until the class of 2024 receives their diplomas.
During this time, bureaucrats will review high school standards, but won't impose them on any students who have already started high school. Any new graduation requirements wouldn't be in place until the class of 2027. Five graduating classes are about to be failed by our legislative and educational systems.
These graduation requirements are not radical. They are lower than they should be. They state that a graduating senior must have a 10th grade proficiency level in math, reading and writing. These graduation standards also create checkpoints to help those without basic 10th grade proficiency levels in these subjects with extra help and workshops to get them caught up to be eligible to graduate from a public school in Oregon.
As a parent of two little girls in Oregon public schools, I'm well aware of the disastrous effect the last year of virtual/hybrid learning has had on our kids. It may be pragmatic to remove standards in a year where kids have been forced to navigate an unprecedented change to the way they learn, but removing these standards for five years will erode their ability to continue learning or compete in the workplace with students from other states.
We all know that the Legislature sat idly by during the past school year and allowed the government teachers unions to bully local school boards, delaying and even preventing our kids from getting back into the classroom. Now the Legislature is going to remove crucial standards for core subjects because they didn't value our kids' education enough to stand up for them this last year.
Oregon ranks nearly last in several education statistics, and that was pre-COVID-19. Now the Legislature is removing graduation requirements because their system is so broken that they fear graduating seniors can't do better than a 10th grade level in reading, writing and math. They should be designing standards to make our education system more robust, not dooming students to half a decade of academic regression.
Demonstrating proficiency in these basic subjects is said to be most difficult for students with disabilities, students of color, and students who communicate in English as a secondary language. These are some of our most vulnerable students. Rather than patting them on the head and shoving them into a real world where they will be grossly underprepared, we should be providing them with extra resources, tutoring and programs to help increase their skills in reading, writing and math before they graduate.
How can we expect these kids to compete against others with basic proficiencies in the job force, trade school and college if we don't believe in them enough to set the most basic expectations?
Oregon students deserve better. They deserve to graduate with a 12th grade education, not a 10th grade one. At a time when our educational debate is focused on critical race and gender theory, non-denominational holidays and safe spaces, perhaps it's time we devote some energy to the basics: reading, writing and arithmetic. Our next generation can become productive members of the workforce and have the opportunity to pursue higher education — but we need to expect more from them than our Legislature does.
MacKensey Pulliam of Sandy is co-founder of the Oregon Moms Union.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.