Fluency in English Unnecessary to Graduate in Oregon

By Mary Ann Zehr — December 07, 2009 1 min read
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The Oregon board of education voted last week to permit some English-language learners to get a high school diploma even if they aren’t fluent in English. The policy enables students to graduate if they can read and write well in their native language and score 3 out of 5 on the state’s English-language-proficiency test, according to an article in the Democrat Herald published in Albany, Ore. That’s an English-proficiency score needed for admission to a community college, says Tony Alpert, the testing director for the state department of education, in the article. (Update: The article is actually a rewrite of a story originally published in the Oregonian by Betsy Hammond.)

The policy brought up for a vote is posted on the state board’s Web site. It says the option of demonstrating proficiency in one’s home language instead of English is available only to students who have been in the United States for five or less years. Students can show they have a command of their native language on “statewide or local assessments as appropriate and available,” according to the policy.

The document describes the policies of several states for providing diplomas to English-learners (scroll to the end). In New Mexico, for instance, ELLs don’t have to be fluent in English to get a high school diploma. They can take the state’s high school exit exam in Spanish or English. School districts can also ask for translations in other languages of all parts of the exit exam except the reading section. The reading part is available only in Spanish and English. In addition, ELLs may request a waiver from the exit exam.

I know that’s not the case in California, which has the most ELLs of any state. In that state, ELLs must pass the exit exam in English. I’ve reported previously on some ELLs who couldn’t graduate because they couldn’t meet that bar.

In New York state, ELLs must pass the English/language arts high school exit exam in English to graduate, though exit exams in other subjects are available in five other languages. I’ve met students in New York who passed the state’s English-language-proficiency test, but didn’t pass the English exit exam.

Do ELLs have to be fluent in English in your state to get a high school diploma? Do you think they should have to show a command of English to graduate?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.