The Oregon Board of Education on Thursday voted unanimously to remove requirements for students to be proficient in reading and writing in order to graduate—joining the long line of ill-advised moves to cut academic expectations for American students.
The Oregon Department of Education released a statement calling the reading and writing proficiency standards “burdensome to teachers and students.” Dan Farley, Oregon’s assistant superintendent of research, assessment, and data with the Education Department, said the standards simply “did not work.”
There’s no evidence that suspending those standards is going to improve the academic performance of any student—quite the contrary. Had the Oregon Board of Education done 15 minutes of research, it would have found that relaxing academic performance standards has had drastic adverse consequences.
Ohio tried the same strategy in 2020—and the results are already looking grim. Then-state Superintendent Paolo DeMaria reformed graduation requirements, abandoning “competency” in math and English. Since that decision, Ohio’s math proficiency has dropped.
An Ohio State University report on Ohio’s proficiencies in math and English describe middle- and high-school grades’ math performance decline as “substantial.” Since 2020, math performance in grades 3 through 10 has fallen between 1% and 4%—and shows no signs of improving.
Why would it? If math proficiency is no longer a requirement for graduation, why would schools devote the time to making sure students are proficient in it?
Baltimore City Public Schools, which had relaxed its math standards several times since the early 2010s, currently has 13 high schools in which zero students tested proficient in math in the 2023 Maryland state assessments.
Public school districts in California, Michigan, New York, and South Carolina have tried similar approaches—lowering academic standards and expectations in the name of “racial equity.” The results are as you might expect: No district that has sought to cut academic standards has seen an improvement in academic performance.
Why would Oregon be any different?
Oregon’s Board of Education has not provided an alternative to the literacy graduation standards; therefore, we can and should expect the same results, ranging from mediocrity to abject failure, that other states and districts have suffered due to the embarrassingly poor decisions made by individuals who won’t suffer the consequences of illiteracy.
American education is rapidly becoming a toxic system of promoting the “good enough” benchmark to bolster self-esteem by pretending students’ failure is either nonexistent or not their responsibility.
As Daniel Buck, a former educator and fellow at the Fordham Institute, points out, grade point averages in the United States have risen considerably since 2010—while ACT testing scores have remained constant. Students’ performance, as measured by standardized testing, isn’t increasing—but their grades are still improving. How?
Standards are in sharp decline, and performance will follow.
Thankfully, some states are bucking this trend. Tennessee has begun requiring third grade students who don’t meet performance requirements on the annual state math test to take summer classes in an effort to close gaps.
Florida—which not only kept students in classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic, but has also increased expectations for students in both math and English—has seen dividends in student performance. Florida’s reading and math average scores for grades 4, 8, and 12 have climbed year-over-year since 2020.
The lack of academic expectations has driven many parents to seek alternative education options for their children in the past decade—with STEM and classical education seeing the largest increases.
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics charter and private schools have become a common sight in cities across the country—promising a rigorous environment for students to stretch their academic muscles and prepare for challenging careers by carrying a hefty workload with intensive assessments.
It’s unsurprising that STEM charters consistently outperform local public schools in both reading and math.
Classical education, which throws pre-K through 12th grade students into classic works of literature, history, sciences, philosophy, and theology, has also become quite popular—with organizations such as Classical Learning Test creating an alternative to the SAT and ACT, which many universities are beginning to prefer.
As for Oregon’s decision to abandon reading proficiency, the jury isn’t out; to the contrary, it’s quite in. Other states and schools have consistently proven that leaving standards and expectations behind for any reason will result in diminished returns in performance—and students will end up paying the price for the rest of their lives.
Regrettably, Oregon isn’t the first state, and it likely won’t be the last. Every department, board, administrator, and policymaker that withholds expectations from students is depriving them of the possibility of growth and achievement.
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