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New report suggests changes for Oregon graduation requirements

FILE - In this May 4, 2017, file photo, students head to classes at a high school in Forest Grove, Ore.
Don Ryan
/
FILE - In this May 4, 2017, file photo, students head to classes at a high school in Forest Grove, Ore.

A new report out Thursday from Oregon education officials recommends changes to what’s required to earn a high school diploma.

Senate Bill 744, passed by the Oregon Legislature last year, ordered the Oregon Department of Education to deliver a report evaluating the state’s graduation requirements by Sept. 1, 2022.

Released Thursday, ODE’s report outlines research and recommendations on what’s expected of Oregon high school graduates, with two main findings 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 more equitable and better aligned with what businesses and colleges want from future employees and students.

ODE director Colt Gill said the recommendations focus on changing Oregon’s education system to better serve students and get them to graduation.

“We know students can meet requirements when we put them in front of them … one of the reasons you see so many of our recommendations focused on the system is because we think that’s what needs to be addressed to help our students, to help Oregon’s graduation rates, and help more students earn a diploma in Oregon,” Gill said.

But both feedback and data collected for the report show inequities in graduation among student groups — from the types of diploma students receive, to the method by which they fulfill graduation requirements.

ODE Administrator for Research and Accountability Dan Farley said the changes Oregon needs to make are systemwide, not based on individual student achievement.

“The accountability in our prior graduation requirements was almost squarely placed on individual students,” Farley said. “Whereas, graduation really is a community indicator, and it reflects students’ access to high quality learning resources across their K-12 experience.”

Gill said the data collected for the report informed ODE”s recommendations, which will be presented to legislators and the State Board of Education later this month.

The community feedback

State officials heard from 3,500 people over the last year, including students, parents, educators and community members. The majority responded via a statewide survey, but state officials also hosted Zoom meetings and community conversations with specific groups.

The report summarizes the feedback received into several themes, among them flexibility, the value of skills like financial literacy and critical thinking, and the assessment methods for testing student knowledge in areas including 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 didn’t offer or point students in the direction of internships… The school just wanted to get kids to graduate; they were not focused on what happened after,” said one 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 set the standard, they feel like they can meet it, and the students feel like they can meet it,” Gill said, “as long as they have access to an equitable education to help them get there.”

The state by state comparison

Compared to other states, Oregon’s graduation rate is near the bottom in the country’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 diploma requirements are among the “most rigorous, most stringent” and aren’t equivalent to states with higher graduation rates and different standards for graduation.

“All that can feel like excuses, but what I’m really trying to say there, is that these are not measuring the same outcome for our students,” Gill said. “So we’re all calling it a diploma as an outcome, but that’s not what we’re reaching.”

The report’s authors say Oregon’s graduation rate falls below other states “partly due to differences in systemic investments.”

Farley said those systemic investments include better per-student funding, as well as higher pay for teachers.

“It’s not necessarily that we haven’t paid attention to or invested in these areas that we know are needed,” Farley added, citing the Student Success Act, a corporate tax legislators passed a few years ago to directly help fund schools. “But there are some states who are farther down in that investment process than we are.”

The recommendations

The recommendations include requiring a ‘future planning’ course that would include skills like financial planning or resume building. The report also recommends going from three Oregon diploma options (the Oregon diploma, the Modified Oregon Diploma, and the Extended Oregon Diploma) to just one.

The report found some Oregon schools were “increasing their use” of a modified diploma and that the differences between diploma types were not always communicated to parents and students. Some parents felt districts were “pushing” a modified diploma.

“They want to give my son a modified diploma but they haven’t given me enough information about what it means and that my son will have barriers if he receives the certificate or what will he be allowed to study,” said one parent’s comment in the report, translated from Spanish.

ODE also recommends keeping the list of Essential Skills but updating it with input from businesses, industry leaders, and colleges.

To prove students have mastered those skills, the report suggests connecting the skills to the recommended ‘future planning’ course, and removing the requirement that students prove their Essential Skills mastery with a test.

In addition to ordering this report, SB 744 dropped the Essential Skill requirement through the 2023-2024 school year, prompting concern that students would no longer have to prove they can read, write, or do math to graduate from high school.

“The review of statewide data shows the Assessment of Essential Skills requirement was implemented inequitably and did not ensure anticipated benefits for students in their preparation for postsecondary 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’s next

What happens next to Oregon education depends on the Legislature and Oregon State Board of Education.

With a gubernatorial election coming just a couple of months away, the future of Oregon’s graduation requirements also lie with its next governor.

Gill said he hopes Oregonians take the time to read the report before coming to conclusions about the state agency’s position on graduation requirements.

“It will be easy to politicize and to 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. “But I think if you take a look at what people in Oregon said, what our students said, what our families said, and you tie that to the data, these recommendations will make a lot of sense.”

Read the whole report here.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Elizabeth Miller