News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters schools uphold education standards

There’s a very good reason that Governor Kate Brown wants to avoid talking about her stealth signing of Senate Bill 744. It’s indefensible.

The bill drops requirements that Oregon’s high school graduates demonstrate they can read, write, or do math at a high school level through the 2023-24 school year.

There’s a tell in the fact that Brown did not hold a signing ceremony, and her office did not issue a press release about the signing of the bill. The State didn’t enter the bill into the legislative database until 15 days after it was signed. Perhaps the governor recognizes that this move is an embarrassment.

It lets down the people of Oregon, who have a right to expect that their tax dollars devoted to education actually provide education. It is an insult to the teachers who strive, often under trying conditions, to improve their students’ capabilities and performance. It is an insult to all those students who strive to better themselves. And, perhaps worst of all, it sends the message to struggling students that we don’t believe they can succeed.

According to The Oregonian, Brown’s Communications Deputy Charles 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.’”

How? Since when do we consider failure to prepare students for post-graduation life a “benefit”?

“Leaders from those communities have advocated time and again for equitable graduation standards, along with expanded learning opportunities and supports,” Boyle wrote.

We can all get behind “expanded learning opportunities and supports.” Where are they? They’re not there, because the legislature didn’t pass any. They just dropped the standards. That’s not “benefitting” students; that’s what Michael Gerson, a speechwriter for former president George W. Bush, once called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Boyle claims that “SB 744 gives us an opportunity to review our graduation requirements and make sure our assessments can truly assess all students’ learning. In the meantime, it gives Oregon students and the education community a chance to regroup after a year and a half of disruption caused by the pandemic.”

The final version of the bill eliminated a provision that would have permanently prevented the State Board of Education from requiring students who completed required coursework to demonstrate proficiency in any other skill or academic content area.

The very fact that such a provision was even considered indicates where this is ultimately headed.

It may be that proficiency assessments need to be reformed and revised. That’s a continuous process — but it doesn’t require suspending proficiency requirements entirely while it’s undertaken. It makes sense to asterisk performance measurements while schools continue to wrestle with the impacts of COVID-19. But that’s not what the State is offering to its teachers, students, and taxpayers. This is simply an abdication.

Proponents of SB 744 want to make this about standardized testing, arguing that the requirements place students who don’t test well at an unfair disadvantage. That’s disingenuous. It’s true that testing isn’t always the best way to assess proficiency; we all know people who underperform on tests because, well, they underperform on tests. But there are other ways under the suspended standards that students can demonstrate proficiency.

Disingenuous arguments, coupled with the let’s-hope-nobody-notices approach to enacting the legislation show that proponents know this abdication of proficiency requirements looks bad. And it looks bad because it IS bad. It’s a step in the wrong direction.

The Sisters School District need not move in lockstep with this wrong turn. SSD has standards that are higher across the board than the State’s minimum standards. The District has long offered its own diploma, which requires more credits than that issued by the State. Standards of math and reading proficiency are incorporated into the classroom, and those students who have trouble demonstrating that they meet the standards — via testing or through work samples — are given help to clear the bar.

In the current social climate, it’s good to see Superintendent Curt Scholl affirm the District’s commitment to quality education (see story, page 1). The school board needs to follow up by formally, assertively affirming its commitment to its standards.

The Sisters School District needs to speak up loud and clear in defense of its fundamental mission: to educate ALL of its students to the highest standard they can achieve.

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.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit www.frontierpartisans.com.

 

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