PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – For the next five years, high school students in Oregon will not be required to take an assessment of essential skills proving they’ve mastered math, reading or writing.

This comes as the Oregon Board of Education unanimously voted Thursday to extend a pause created by former Gov. Kate Brown in 2020, suspending the proficiency requirement in order to graduate. The pause will now last through the 2027-2028 school year.

The controversial decision was first reported by the Oregonian on Thursday, and has been met with a lot of pushback. While some say it will lower state standards and cheapen an Oregon diploma, other education experts say the policy didn’t work and disproportionately harmed students of color.  

Dan Farley, the assistant superintendent of the Office of Research, Assessment, Data, Accountability, and Reporting at the Oregon Department of Education, said the pause removes the harms that had been caused by the policy.

“What we found is that it simply wasn’t working,” Farley said. “We looked at several post-secondary outcomes, and there were no changes in those data, pre- and post-implementation of this policy. So it wasn’t having the intended impact.”

An Oregon Department of Education report submitted to the Senate Committee on Education last year found that “the assessment of essential skills requirement was implemented inequitably and did not ensure anticipated benefits for students in their preparation for post-secondary transition.”

“The report brought to light several impacts on students, primarily students of color, students with IEPS, and students who are English learners, who because of the requirements, were being excluded from learning opportunities at the high school level because they were working on trying to pass a test,” Farley said.

But the pause continues to see pushback from community members who claim the decision could lower education standards in the state

Former governor candidate Christine Drazan launched a campaign and garnered more than 1,400 public comments in opposition.

“It’s disappointing that these unelected bureaucrats decided to ignore public comment and continue down a path that neglects their responsibility to help students meet high standards,” Drazan said.

Executive Director Whitney Grubbs of Foundations for a Better Oregon said in a written statement to KOIN 6 that the removal of these state requirements necessitates new requirements to take their place.

“When state leaders remove or pause existing graduation requirements without proposing more effective and equitable alternatives, it risks leading Oregonians to believe that our state is lowering expectations to artificially mask disparities and improve outcomes. This impression sadly reinforces a false and deeply prejudiced narrative that certain student groups are inherently unable to meet high expectations based on their identity, zip code, disability, or circumstances. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Still, state education leaders like Farley say that despite this decision, most of Oregon’s graduation requirements remain in place and are still as challenging as any other state.

“Our state assessments are still in place. Families and parents for students who take our Grade 11 assessments are getting the same information that they ever got from their schools,” Farley said. “All we have eliminated is a specific and inappropriate use of that assessment that wasn’t doing what it was designed to do.”

A complete copy of the SB 744 report is available to read below: