Oregon graduated nearly 6% of its high schoolers last year despite their failure of the state reading exam, The Oregonian reports. The nearly 1,700 students failed the exam and chose to avail themselves to another method of proving competency, according to public education records.
Last year was the first time that the test was required for graduation, and more than 90% of the 32,000 students passed the exam. In total more than 30,000 got a passing grade on the new standardized exams, and the majority of the rest completed reading exercises graded by the students’ schools.
State officials say it’s unclear so far whether the alternative teacher-graded system it set up to document students’ reading ability is as valid and rigorous as the state reading test. Students with limited English proficiency or a disability were most likely to rely on the alternate path. In the metro area, the David Douglas and Portlandschool districts were the biggest users of the locally judged option, relying on it for more than one of every 10 diplomas awarded. More than half of Portland graduates who studied English as a second language at any point in high school used the locally graded exercise to qualify.
Education officials in the affected areas say that they provided intensive tutoring to students who had failed the state exam and the alternative required exercise they designed was written to the same standard as the state test. There is some concern, however, that the latitude allowed to schools in grading the reading exercise could have been used by teachers to pass students who didn’t have the reading skills required for graduation.
The state allowed any student to meet the new requirement by reading two assigned passages and answering open-ended questions to the satisfaction of a teacher using a state-designed grading scale. Teachers were trained to use the scale. But state officials did not check any student’s work to ensure it was strong enough to match a passing score on the state test.
Of the 1,700 students who failed the standardized exam, at least 450 received scores that put them substantially behind their assigned grade level. To get them to the level of their peers would require a massive investment in effort and time.
Among the people who flunked the state reading exam were 35% of ESOL students and 19% of those classified as special education.
The percentage of students who relied on work samples rather than the reading exam to meet the graduation requirement also varied. In Beaverton, for example, only about 4% of graduates had to rely on a locally graded reading sample to pass, while in South Umpqua, nearly a quarter of the graduates had to resort to the alternative method of certifying reading skills.