This decision, they argue, is aimed at addressing the disproportionate impact of these requirements on students of color.
Former Oregon gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan expressed her concerns to Fox News, stating, "At some point … our diploma is going to end up looking a lot more like a participation prize than an actual certificate that shows that someone actually is prepared to go pursue their best future."
The Oregon State Board of Education unanimously voted last week to extend the suspension of the essential skills requirement, which has been on hold since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, 11th graders were required to demonstrate competence in core subjects through standardized tests or work samples. Students who failed to meet these standards were mandated to take additional math and writing classes in their senior year, thereby foregoing an elective class, to qualify for graduation.
The Board members argued that these standards were unnecessary and adversely affected marginalized students. The Oregonian reported that students of color, students with disabilities, and students learning English as a second language were disproportionately required to take the extra step to prove their eligibility for a diploma.
The decision has sparked widespread public opposition, with hundreds submitting comments urging the board to reinstate the standards. Much of this opposition was mobilized by Drazan's advocacy group, A New Direction Oregon.
Board Chair Guadalupe Martinez Zapata dismissed the opposition as a "campaign of misinformation" and "artistic quality mental acrobatics." She criticized the opposition's arguments, stating that they were reminiscent of "racial superiority arguments."
Drazan, who ran as a Republican for governor in Oregon last year, countered, "It is not bigoted, it is not racist to want your student to be able to actually learn."
Oregon's graduation rates are among the lowest in the country, despite having some of the most rigorous credit requirements, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
State Sen. Michael Dembrow, who was on the Board of Education when the essential skills requirement was initially approved in 2008, questioned the assumption that teachers are graduating students without the necessary competencies.
Drazan, however, argued that Oregon is gradually eroding standards across the board. She cited the state education officials' consideration of "equity grading" as an alternative to the traditional A to F scale.
"They are now moving forward with an agenda that says if you cheat, you can't be flunked. If you don't show up, you don't get a zero," she said. "They're not going to have homework that they grade because having homework somehow they view as being inequitable."
Drazan urged concerned parents to voice their concerns to the office of Democrat Tina Kotek, who defeated Drazan in the gubernatorial race last year by less than 4% of the vote and appoints education board members.
"She needs to make the board more responsive to the concerns of families, students and stakeholders than they are at this point," Drazan said.