College & Workforce Readiness

Oregon’s New Graduation Requirements: Higher in Writing Than Math

By Catherine Gewertz — October 02, 2015 2 min read
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Oregon has set new requirements for its graduating seniors, and they’re skewed in a way that has raised a few eyebrows: Students have to meet a much higher bar in English/language arts than in math.

That’s because Oregon tried to establish cut scores on the Smarter Balanced test that are at the same level of rigor as those on its previous graduation test, the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or OAKS.

An advisory panel for the state board of education worked for months to figure out that correspondence, and the state board of education voted last month to approve those cut scores as graduation requirements for current students.

The comparison of the old cut scores and the new ones tells a story about the “higher bar” that common-core advocates have been pushing for. But it also tells an interesting story about the rigor of Oregon’s previous expectations in reading versus writing, and in math versus English/language arts.

When state officials translated Oregon’s old cut scores onto the Smarter Balanced scale, they found that the level of writing they have been expecting from high school students is more difficult than what they’ve been expecting in reading, and that English/language arts expectations overall were higher than those in math. They also found that the expected level of accomplishment in all three subjects fell below Smarter Balanced’s definition of “college ready.”

As the grid below shows, Smarter Balanced has four achievement levels. Level 4 on the 11th grade test connotes college readiness. As its new graduation cut scores, the Oregon state board chose 2515, the low range of Level 2, as the required graduation score for reading, and 2583, the lowest score in Level 3, for writing. In math, it chose 2543, barely clearing the Level 2 bar, as the diploma cut point.

Board members had said they wouldn’t expect students to meet the “college readiness” mark on the Smarter Balanced tests. One of the reasons for that is because a state law forbids raising graduation requirements for students who’ve already entered high school, according to state department of education spokeswoman Crystal Greene.

The board could choose to increase graduation expectations later, for students who haven’t yet entered high school, Greene said.

Oregon students have other options to show they’re diploma-ready, too. They can use good scores on the SAT or ACT, or can assemble a portfolio of work that shows they’re ready to graduate.

Washington state set graduation-requirement cut scores on the Smarter Balanced test in August. It chose an overall English/language arts cut score that is between the two Oregon chose, and a cut point in math that’s higher than Oregon’s.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.