Changing Oregon’s graduation requirements is not enough to ensure student success


On September 1, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) released a report highlighting their recommendations for graduation requirements. The ODE was directed by Senate Bill 744 to meet with families and educators to discuss current graduation requirements as well as inequitable barriers that students may have faced because of them. Informed by these meetings with over 3,5000 families, ODE made a number of recommendations.

Key recommendations include removing the essential skills tests as a diploma requirement, adding a new math pathway for students struggling with established math courses, and incorporating a future planning course to give students necessary life and work skills.

We believe the ODE should remove the essential skills tests as a diploma requirement.  As high school students, we think that standardized tests are unnecessary because they illustrate a narrow view of students’ actual understanding. 

We reached out to students at other PPS high schools to ask their opinions.

Bea Sampo, a senior at Ida B. Wells-Barnett, also believes standardized tests are of limited use.

“Measures of intelligence are so beyond what the standardized tests test you for,” Sampo said. “How is my success determined on whether or not I can solve a fourth-grade problem?”

While eliminating unnecessary barriers, like the essential skills tests is a great start, changing diploma requirements will not entirely solve the issues surrounding student success. If Oregon students struggle to engage and show proficiency in required classes, such as math, it poses the question of what we are not providing students to ensure their success. 

According to the Education Quality Commission, which looks at the funding needed for schools in Oregon to be effective, for the 2023-2025 biennium, Oregon schools will need to receive close to 2.7 billion in additional funds.

Ry Adams, a senior at Roosevelt agrees more funding is important. 

“I mean, just in general[…] I think we need actual funding and plans for that funding,” he said. 

Fortunately Governor Kate Brown, in 2019, signed the Student Success Act (SSA) that will invest 2.35 billion dollars in additional public education funding every two years. The act has already gone into effect and funds are being distributed to schools.

We feel that by funding the SSA, the Oregon legislature is communicating that they care about the futures of students, fixing decades of disinvestment.

We will not see real change in the education system until we fully serve all Oregon students. We believe the funding from the SSA will help bridge the racial and economic divides within schools by expanding the tools and resources available. We hope to see the creation of individualized success plans, expansion of after-school programs, reduction in class sizes, additional mental health support and the broadening of the career and technical education (CTE) courses available. 

In addition, we believe incorporating more relevant world issues into our curriculum, as well as focusing on subjects that actually interest students, will increase engagement.

Sampo agrees. She finds it engaging when teachers structure classes around current world events.

“Every day we go over the news of what’s happening in the economy right now versus elementary random examples […] It’s useful because you get to put your learning into practice,” Sampo said.

The outdated nature of our curriculum and standardized tests is being rightfully challenged. To best serve our communities we must listen to the students and families affected by historic and continuing inequities in our communities.