'Consequences can be dire': OR lawmakers criticize governor's new HS graduation law

Oregon just passed a law that temporarily removes the 'essential skills' graduation requirement for high school students.

'Campus Reform' spoke with several state lawmakers who supported and opposed the legislation.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown recently signed Senate Bill 744, which suspends “Essential Skills” proficiency in reading, writing, and mathematics as a graduation requirement through the end of the 2023-24 academic year. Now, state lawmakers who opposed the bill are concerned about its potential affect on children. 

Campus Reform spoke with several state legislators on SB 744. 

“Long term, the consequences can be dire. For the next 5 years, if not longer, students will graduate high school unprepared for entrance into college or a career field,” Representative Rick Lewis stated.

Three of the nine “Essential Skills” are “read and comprehend a variety of text, ”write clearly and accurately,” and “apply mathematics in a variety of settings.”

Speaking with Campus Reform, Representative Christine Drazan characterized the new law as Oregon “giving up on our kids.” 

Likewise, Senator Art Robinson said the legislation “will diminish opportunities for Oregon students, especially minority students, because it will take away the students right to get the tools that are needed for a successful life; reading, writing, and math skills.”

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According to KTAU, the original suspension of the Essential Skills requirement was to help students who had distance learning due to COVID-19, however, some legislators wanted to “review” the requirement regardless of whether students did distance learning.

Foundations for a Better Oregon, a nonprofit organization, supported SB 744 for its “inclusive nature,” according to the news outlet. 

“An inclusive and equitable review of graduation and proficiency requirements, when guided by data and grounded in commitment to every student’s success, will promote shared accountability and foster a more just Oregon,” the nonprofit’s statement read. 

The lawmakers that Campus Reform spoke with considered the legislation’s implications form national perspective in addition to at the state level. 

“Those who choose to go to college will be competing against those from other states who meet the standards,” Lewis said. “They will likely be at a disadvantage for scholarships. They will likely be non-competitive if they choose to attend a college outside of Oregon.”

Every high school graduate in Oregon has the right to be evaluated and to have every tool they need to be successful in life,” Robinson added. 

Campus Reform also reached out to Democrat Senator Michael Dembrow who voted for the bill. Dembrow referred Campus Reform to an op-ed that he co-wrote with House Chair Teresa Alonso Leon that explains the benefits of the bill, and states that there is misinformation surrounding the issue.

“To say students will not have to prove they can write and do math to get a diploma is false and misleading to families and students. We fully expect the state Board of Education to return with standards that are just as rigorous but much more relevant to the skills students really need today, not just skill in passing a standardized test,” Dembrow and Alonso wrote.

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Per the Oregon Department of Education, “Essential Skills” will be tested in grades 3 through 8. There will be “at least” one testing of “Essential Skills” in high school that will not count as a graduation requirement.

The bill signed by the governor will be beneficial for “Oregon’s Black, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color,” Oregon Live reported Charles Boyle, Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s deputy communications director, as saying.

Lewis told Campus Reform his interpretation of the governor and legislators’ motivation to enact SB 744.

“Faced with pressure to allow parents to seek other options to public education, the failure of virtual learning conducted by public schools, the Governor’s unchecked powers under extension of her emergency declaration and the drop in grade point averages, the answer they chose was SB 744,” the state representative said. 

Campus Reform reached out to Governor Brown for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.