New report suggests changes to Oregon graduation requirements
Senate Bill 744passed by the Oregon Legislature last year, directed the Oregon Department of Education to submit a report assessing state graduation requirements by September 1, 2022 .
Released on Thursday The ODE report describes research and recommendations on what is expected of Oregon high school graduates, with two main conclusions and eight suggestions.
In the first review of Oregon’s graduation requirements in 15 years, the Oregon Department of Education examined graduation requirements in other states and solicited feedback from thousands of Oregonians. The report concluded that Oregon’s graduation requirements should change to be fairer and better aligned with what companies and colleges expect of prospective employees and students.
ODE Director Colt Gill said the recommendations focus on changing Oregon’s education system to better serve students and lead them to graduation.
“We know students can meet the requirements when we put them in front of them…one of the reasons you see so many of our system-focused recommendations is because we believe that’s what needs to be addressed to help our students, to help Oregon’s graduation. and help more students earn a degree in Oregon,” Gill said.
But commentary and data gathered for the report show inequalities in graduation among groups of students — from the types of degrees students receive to the method by which they meet graduation requirements.
ODE Administrator for Research and Accountability Dan Farley said the changes Oregon needs to make are system-wide and not based on individual student outcomes.
“The onus in our prerequisite graduation requirements was placed almost entirely on individual students,” Farley said. “While graduation is truly a community indicator and reflects students’ access to high-quality learning resources throughout their K-12 experience.”
Gill said the data collected for the report informs the ODE’s recommendations, which will be presented to lawmakers and the State Board of Education later this month.
Feedback from the community
State officials heard from 3,500 people over the past year, including students, parents, educators and community members. The majority responded via a statewide surveybut state officials also held Zoom meetings and community conversations with specific groups.
The report summarizes the feedback received into several themes, including flexibility, the value of skills such as financial literacy and critical thinking, and assessment methods to test students’ knowledge in areas such as math, reading and writing.
“My high school did not prepare students for the real world. They didn’t even teach students how to write a proper resume. They did not offer or refer students to internships… The school just wanted the kids to graduate; they weren’t focused on what happened next,” said an Oregon resident, quoted in the report.
Gill noted that access to high quality education for all students was a repeated point.
“Our students and their families, and our educators weren’t so concerned about where we were setting the standard, they feel like they can achieve it, and the students feel like they can achieve it,” Gill said, “as long as they have access to equitable education to help them get there.
The state-by-state comparison
Compared to other states, Oregon’s graduation rate is near the bottom of the nation’s rankings, a statistic that has long been mentioned by politicians and other officials. But when it comes to the number of credits required for graduation, Oregon is one of 14 states that require 24 credits, the most of any state.
Gill noted that Oregon’s degree requirements are among the “most rigorous, strictest” and are not equivalent to states with higher graduation rates and different standards for graduation.
“This all may sound like an apology, but what I’m really trying to say here is that it doesn’t measure the same outcome for our students,” Gill said. “So we all call it a degree as an outcome, but that’s not what we achieve.”
The report’s authors say Oregon’s graduation rate is lower than other states “in part because of differences in systemic investments.”
Farley said those systemic investments include better funding per student, as well as higher salaries for teachers.
“It’s not necessarily that we haven’t paid attention or invested in those areas that we know are needed,” Farley added, citing the Student Success Act, a corporate tax law passed a few years ago to directly help fund the schools. “But some states are further along than us in this investment process.”
Recommendations include requiring a “future planning” course that would include skills such as financial planning or resume writing. The report also recommends moving from three Oregon degree options (the Oregon degree, modified Oregon degree, and extended Oregon degree) to one.
The report found that some Oregon schools were “increasing their use” of a modified credential, and the differences between credential types were not always communicated to parents and students. Some parents felt the districts were “pushing” a modified degree.
“They want to give my son a modified diploma but they haven’t given me enough information about what it means and my son will have barriers if he gets the certificate or what he will be allowed to study” , said a parent’s comment in the report, translated from Spanish.
ODE also recommends keeping the list of essential skills, but updating it with feedback from companies, industry leaders and colleges.
To prove that students have mastered these skills, the report suggests linking the skills to the recommended “future planning” course and removing the requirement that students must prove their mastery of essential skills through a test.
In addition to ordering this report, SB 744 removed the Essential Skills requirement throughout the 2023-2024 school year, raising concerns that students will no longer have to prove they can read, write or do math to graduate from high school.
“Review of statewide data shows that the Essential Skills Assessment requirement was implemented inequitably and did not ensure the intended benefits for students in preparing for the post-secondary transition,” according to the report.
Other recommendations include better preparing students for life after high school by requiring two-year post-graduation plans for students.
What happens next to Oregon education is up to the Oregon State Legislature and Board of Education.
With a gubernatorial election coming just months away, the future of Oregon’s graduation requirements also rests with its next governor.
Gill said he hopes Oregonians take the time to read the report before jumping to conclusions about the state agency’s position on graduation requirements.
“It will be easy to politicize and make statements about, you know, ‘these recommendations will lead us to a higher level of rigor for our students or a lower level of rigor for our students,'” Gill said. think if you look at what people in Oregon have said, what our students have said, what our families have said, and tie that to the data, those recommendations will make a lot of sense.”