Scholl affirms school standards in Sisters
Last updated 8/18/2021 at Noon
News last week regarding the passage of Senate Bill 744 and subsequent approval by Governor Kate Brown might be compared to the wildfires burning all around the State this summer.
Citizens are hot.
The change in the law suspends for three years the graduation requirement for students to show proficiency in “Essential Learning Skills,” which over the past 13 years has been accomplished through statewide assessments called Smarter-Balanced, as well as other alternate measures and assessments, including the PSAT, ACT, SAT, Work Keys, as well as in-house work samples.
The bill, which received bipartisan support, also orders the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) to reassess diploma requirements. (The bill can be read in its entirety at https:// href="http://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2021R1/Measures/Overview/SB744" target="_blank">olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2021R1/Measures/Overview/SB744.)
The Essential Skills requirement had been suspended for the last two graduating classes in Oregon due to the pandemic, which was largely accepted as sensible, since learning was so disrupted. But the passage of the law suspending the Essential Skills requirement for the next three years, and the rationale behind the move, has stoked flames of anger toward the Oregon legislature and Governor Brown.
Public outcry has been strong, as many Oregonians view the move as a step backward in education standards.
Sisters Schools Superintendent Curt Scholl spoke with The Nugget last week and strongly affirmed that standards for Sisters students will be unchanged.
“While I understand that this change in law looks like a lowering of standards, in fact, the only real change is that students will not be required to ‘prove’ competency by taking an assessment or providing special work samples,” he said.
“Here in Sisters, we use standards-based curriculum and measurements, so we can be confident that a student who passes all the classes required to graduate has shown competency in all required subjects,” he said. “In addition, our requirements for a Sisters High School diploma are actually higher than the State standard when it comes to credits.”
He went on to explain that in grades K-8, standards are clearly defined and assessed regularly through programs like “i-Ready”for math and reading, which provide frequent and relevant data about student progress throughout the year — something the State assessments could never provide.
“Over the years, the State of Oregon allowed students to opt out of the State testing, so the data gained from that measurement was not representative of the State as a whole and was largely not useful,” he said. “Even at the local level, we didn’t get much useful data from the tests.”
With all that said, Scholl agrees that the way this news came out in the media, the rationale offered for making the change, and the fact that no new plan was presented, only exacerbated the public’s negative response.
“I don’t fully understand the rationale the legislature used in making this decision, and the fact that the governor apparently signed the bill in July very quietly raised a lot of eyebrows,” he said.
News articles about SB?744 say that unidentified backers of the bill believe that the existing proficiency levels somehow presented an unfair challenge for students who do not test well, and that making changes in the way students are assessed would aid Oregon’s Black, Latino, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and other students of color.
Scholl said he was unsure what these comments really mean and that he understood how people could feel insulted by them.
“These unclear statements are a big reason people are upset,” he said.
Critics have also questioned why the legislature took up SB 744 at all, rather than letting the Oregon Board of Education and ODE consider or even make changes. The chair of the Senate Education Committee, Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, added to the confusion when he told The Oregonian in late spring that he thought the Department of Education had asked the legislature to extend the waiver of Essential Skills that had been put in place for the last two years due to the pandemic by passing this bill. Oregon Department of Education has publicly said Dembrow is mistaken.
Scholl concluded by saying, “I can’t say that I am disappointed that the actual testing is being suspended, but I am concerned about how our leaders have presented it.
“For our part here in Sisters, I want our students and families to rest assured our standards remain high and we are using best practices in teaching and evaluating our students.”