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Common sense approach needed with new high school graduation requirements Print E-mail

by Clem Lausberg, Ph.D., a COSA retiree and former school business manager

I support the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) list of Essential Skills for Oregon students as outlined in Section 14a of OAR 581-022-0615. In addition to basic skills in reading, writing and mathematics, it is essential that students develop active listening skills, speak clearly and coherently, think critically and analytically, utilize technology, and demonstrate civic and community engagement, global literacy, personal management and teamwork skills.

I also support the Essential Skills Assessments (as outlined in Section 14B) in reading, writing, and mathematics assessment tests as appropriate for college ready students to “enter credit bearing freshman classes without remediation.” Oregon students who successfully pass these assessments perform well in their freshman year in the state university system (OUS) and have better retention and graduation rates. Section 13, in fact, should be strengthened with a requirement students pass these assessments, or an equivalent, for admission to the OUS.

On the other hand, passage of the Section 14B state assessments in reading, writing, and mathematics tests, or an equivalent, needs to be modified for work ready Oregon high school students based on their required post high school plans.  Insistence on a “one size fits all” approach where all students are required to be college ready  is based on faulty logic,  will increase high school dropouts, force a majority of students to focus on remedial courses and drill and kill exam preparation, and reduce electives. Ironically, the new requirements are also likely to reduce the emphasis on critical thinking, technology, preparation for citizenship and management and teamwork contained in the “Essential Skills” necessary for the 21st century.

The logic assumes that student performance will improve once passage of the reading, writing, and math state assessment tests are required for graduation. This flies in the face of Oregon experience under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Despite requiring performance in sub-groups to meet Annual Yearly Progress, low income and minority passage rates remain low. Even with incremental improvement in recent years, Oregon will fall far short of 100% proficiency in all sub groups by 2014.  Must Oregon repeat the Federal mistake of setting an impossible goal? 

Setting the bar at levels that result in many students failing is unacceptable to the public. Must we repeat the experience of school districts that required students earn a CIM (Certificate of Initial Mastery) for high school graduation? In every case, districts backed off when they realized large numbers of students would not graduate.  

Under current graduation standards, only 7 of 10 ninth graders graduates in four years, only 4 of 10 ninth graders goes on to postsecondary education, and only 2 of 10 ninth graders will graduate in six years from  a two or four year school.  Is it likely Oregon’s college-going rate will improve under these new high stakes testing requirements for high school graduation? 

In fact, the new requirements may reduce the number of students going on to postsecondary education, particularly among low income and minority students.  In 2006-07, the overall passage rate on the state assessment tests was 65% in reading, and 55% in mathematics, but much lower for major student sub-groups. The 2006-07 passage rates for low income students were 48% in reading and 38% in math, for students with disabilities it was 20% in reading and 17% in math, and for Limited English Speaking students it was 15% in reading and 18% in math.  

Consider the impact these new testing requirements might have on students at one Oregon high school (an actual school with actual data shown) with a large low-income and minority student population. Note the significant gap between the actual performance of students in 2006-07 and the new testing requirements. There is a point where the percent of students passing the tests will plateau based on individual student circumstances, and reach the point of diminishing returns. The focus on repeated attempts to pass these high stakes tests will become more important than a  post high school plan, or even worse, increase the dropout rate and reduce graduation rates for low income and minority students. There is the potential that a majority of students will fail to graduate on time, and also fail to have the skills to be work ready after leaving high school.

Example High School  2006-07 AYP Results

Number Meeting Reading & Writing

Reading & Writing
Number of Participant

Reading & Writing
% Passed

 

Number Meeting
Math

Math Number of Participants

Math
% Passed

 

All Students

241

473

51.0%

206

469

43.9%

Low Income

98

266

36.8%

77

256

30%

LEP

17

83

20.5%

19

83

22.9%

Hispanic

47

145

32.4%

36

145

24.8%

Special Ed.

12

52

23.1%

7

50

14%

What is needed is a common sense approach that addresses the educational needs of individual students and gives all students an opportunity to be successful, whether that is college ready or work ready. Work ready plans as defined by ODE means “prepared for entry level jobs that may require some additional training and education directly after high school (industry certification, military training, a degree from a two or four year college)”. Further, work ready plans include preparation for jobs that offer a living wage, can be accessed with a high school diploma and/or short term training, and offer career advancement opportunity.

Section 14B should be amended to require all high school students to have an individual post high school education plan. Based on a student’s individual education program, work ready students may complete an approved locally scored assessment, such as a work sample or student project, as an alternative to passage of OAKS tests in reading, math, and writing.


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This page was last updated on Thursday, May 22, 2008 .