States are remodeling standardized testing as part of graduation requirements. Could this mean that standardized tests are on their way out of education?
One of those states is Oregon, which back in June passed a bill that suspended its Essential Skills graduation requirements for high school students for 2022, 2023, and 2024.
For Oregon, the Essential Skills make up nine parts. Oregon Public Broadcasting summarizes these as “reading, writing, math, critical thinking, technology usage, and civic and community engagement.” From 2012 to 2019, high school graduates in Oregon had to show proficiency in these skills, which could be tested either through taking a state standardized test or submitting relevant work samples.
However, instead of using work samples, most Oregon schools only used standardized testing, which was not part of the original vision to implement the Essential Skills requirement. When COVID-19 hit, Oregon waived standardized tests for the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021, as many other states did. Oregon used the opportunity to re-evaluate existing graduation requirements and temporarily suspend the Essential Skills requirement. Oregon will still require students to have 24 credits to graduate high school.
Oregon House of Representative member Zach Hudson says that even though removing standardized testing makes graduating easier, it does not mean that Oregon high school diplomas hold less value.
“The fact that we make something easier does not mean it’s less educationally valid, and the fact that something is more difficult for a student doesn’t mean they’ve demonstrated better learning,” Hudson shares. He calls standardized testing “a meaningless hoop to jump through.”
Oregon House Minority Whip Leader Christine Drazan does not hold the same sentiment. She’s criticized Governor Kate Brown’s decision to drop the Essential Skills requirement.
“We have Democrat leadership in our state that has taken our state in the wrong direction,” Drazen says. “Now they are adding our kids to that. They’re not holding them to the standards and providing them certainty when they get all of high school we can be assured they can read and write and do math.”
She adds that children need to be able to “prove competency in reading, writing, and mathematics.”
The Oregon Department of Education and state lawmakers believe that re-evaluating graduation requirements can allow more opportunity for equity. Not just in Oregon, but across the country, there have been gaps in test scores between white students and students who are Black or Latino. The Oregon Education Association says that standardized testing can keep some students from graduating. Rashelle Chase, the founder of Mxm Bloc, goes a step further. She specifies that low-income students and children of color can be hurt by testing requirements.
“Under the best of circumstances, in totally normal times with no pandemic, there are a number of children who don’t test well,” Chase explains. She says it’s “not a deficit on the part of those children.”
MacKensey Pulliam, founder of the Oregon Moms Union, believes that eliminating the requirements will be detrimental.
“They serve as checkpoints so that any kids who need extra help in getting those extra requirements, we can get them extra help to make sure they can graduate with the same proficiency as their peers,” Pulliam says.
Oregon is not the only state to implement a non-standardized test approach to high school graduation.
Just this past week, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida announced that the state will eliminate the high-stakes Florida Statewide Assessment, an end-of-year Common Core exam. Instead, the state will implement a Florida Assessment of Student Thinking plan, which is designed to monitor student progress and encourage individual growth throughout the year.
Florida will be the first state to completely eliminate Common Core and move to progress monitoring instead of standardized testing.
As universities are moving away from standardized tests as part of their admission requirements, more states could very well discontinue the need for them for high school graduation.
Do you think states should move away from standardized testing? How might they implement other graduation requirements?