Aug 12 , 2021
Gov. Kate Brown signed a law to allow Oregon students to graduate without proving they can write or do math. She doesn’t want to talk about it.
For the next five years, an Oregon high school diploma will be no guarantee that the student who earned it can read, write or do math at a high school level.
Gov. Kate Brown had demurred earlier this summer regarding whether she supported the plan passed by the Legislature to drop the requirement that students demonstrate they have achieved those essential skills. But on July 14, the governor signed Senate Bill 744 into law.
Through a spokesperson, the governor declined again Friday to comment on the law and why she supported suspending the proficiency requirements.
Brown’s decision was not public until recently, because her office did not hold a signing ceremony or issue a press release and the fact that the governor signed the bill was not entered into the legislative database until July 29, a departure from the normal practice of updating the public database the same day a bill is signed.
The Oregonian/OregonLive asked the governor’s office when Brown’s staff notified the Legislature that she had signed the bill. Charles Boyle, the governor’s deputy communications director, said the governor’s staff notified legislative staff the same day the governor signed the bill.
Boyle said in an emailed statement that suspending the reading, writing and math proficiency requirements while the state develops new graduation standards will benefit “Oregon’s 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, along with expanded learning opportunities and supports,” Boyle wrote.
Lawmakers and the governor did not pass any major expansion of learning opportunities or supports for Black, Indigenous and students of color during this year’s legislative session.
The requirement that students demonstrate freshman- to sophomore-level skills in reading, writing and, particularly, math led many high schools to create workshop-style courses to help students strengthen their skills and create evidence of mastery. Most of those courses have been discontinued since the skills requirement was paused during the pandemic before lawmakers killed it entirely.
Democrats in the legislature overwhelmingly supported ending the longtime proficiency requirement, while Republicans criticized it as a lowering of academic standards. A couple lawmakers crossed party lines on the votes.
Proponents said the state needed to pause Oregon’s high school graduation requirements, in place since 2009 but already suspended during the pandemic, until at least the class of 2024 graduates in order for leaders to reexamine its graduation requirements. Recommendations for new standards are due to the Legislature and Oregon Board of Education by September 2022.
However, since Oregon education officials have long insisted they would not impose new graduation requirements on students who have already begun high school, new requirements would not take effect until the class of 2027 at the very earliest. That means at least five more classes could be expected to graduate without needing to demonstrate proficiency in math and writing.
Much of the criticism of the graduation requirements was targeted at standardized tests. Yet Oregon, unlike many other states, did not require students to pass a particular standardized test or any test at all. Students could demonstrate their ability to use English and do math via about five different tests or by completing an in-depth classroom project judged by their own teachers.
A variety of factors appear to have led to the lack of transparency around the governor’s bill signing decisions this summer. Staff in the secretary of the state Senate’s office are responsible for updating the legislative database when the governor signs a Senate bill. Secretary of the Senate Lori Brocker said a key staffer who deals with the governor’s office was experiencing medical issues during the 15-day period between when Brown signed Senate Bill 744 and the public database was updated to reflect that.
Still, a handful of bills that the governor signed into law on July 19 — including a bill to create a training program for childcare and preschool providers aimed at reducing suspensions and expulsions of very young children — were updated in the legislative database the same day she signed them and email notifications were sent out immediately to people who signed up to track the bills.
No notification ever went out regarding the governor’s signing of the graduation bill. That was because by the time legislative staff belatedly entered the information into the bill database on July 29, the software vendor had shut off bill updates to member of the media and the public who had requested them. They cut it off because of a July 21 system malfunction, said legislative information services Systems Architect Bill Sweeney.