The state of Oregon has decided not to require high school students to show a proficiency in basic subjects like math and English in order to graduate. Professor Jonathan Turley explains why this is a very bad idea and a betrayal of students.

Turley: I was once told by a pilot that jet bridges are the most dangerous places in aviation because “no one dies on the plane.” When someone has a fatal episode on a plane, the preference is to move the person outside to “call the code” on the bridge rather than require the plane to be held or quarantined due to the death.

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If you just move them outside, they died somewhere else. The result is that it can be challenging to determine how many people actually die on airplanes.

That story came to mind this week as more traditional public schools moved to end standardized testing—a move that can guarantee no student fails in their schools. In this case, students who can’t read or do basic arithmetic are being sent out into society or even to college to fail somewhere else. Anywhere other than the traditional public school.

Many of us have long lamented the chronic failure of government-run, union-controlled schools in major cities like New York, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. Too many students in those cities and more don’t achieve bare proficiency in reading, writing, and math. The response in many districts is for some to declare standardized testing or meritocracy as “racist” while other districts eliminate special programs or schools for gifted students.

Oregon has found a simpler approach. Gov. Kate Brown (D) just signed a bill last month that drops any proficiency requirement in reading, writing or math, before graduation. Problem solved. The short bill includes this provision:

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“SECTION 3. Notwithstanding any rules adopted by the State Board of Education, a student may not be required to show proficiency in Essential Learning Skills as a condition of receiving a high school diploma during the 2021-2022, 2022-2023 or 2023-2024 school year.”

The pandemic was the basis for initial suspension of such requirements, but now it is being extended. The call for a more “inclusive and equitable review of graduation and proficiency requirements” was supported by Foundations for a Better Oregon to change requirement to “reflect what every student needs to thrive in the 21st century.” That appears not to include being able to write, read, or do simple math. The supporters insist that it is unfair to require students to demonstrate knowledge on tests…

Too many schools are graduating students without testing barriers for graduation. Then too many may go to colleges and universities that have also eliminated standardized testing for admission. At every stage in their education, they have been passed along by educators without objective proof that they are minimally educated. That certainly guarantees high graduation rates or improved diversity admissions. However, these students are still left without any marketable skills as they enter an increasingly competitive job market and economy.

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Any failures will come down the road when they will be asked to write, read, or add by someone who is looking for actual work product. They will then be outside of the educational system and any failures will not be attributed to public educators.

If we truly care for these students, we cannot rig the system to just kick them down the road toward failure. It is like declaring patients healthy by just looking at them and sending them on their way. We have the ability to measure proficiency and we have the moral obligation to face our own failures in helping our kids achieve and succeed.