Should High School Students Be Tested for Graduation?

The MultDems Education Study Group Examines the Evidence

by Margi Brown and Mary Thamann, Education Study Group co-chairs

Oregon Senate Bill 744 would suspend essential skills testing for high school graduation. Conservatives have criticized the bill as detrimental to educational quality, but the evidence does not bear this out.
The Education Study Group has been working over the last couple of years on two issues related to standardized testing: (1) standardized testing of children in grades K-2 and (2) the essential skills test required for graduation. We have been particularly focused this last year on the amount of testing being done on K-2 students. Oregon requires that incoming kindergarten students take standardized assessments not required by the federal government. Much of the focus of the testing is developmentally inappropriate for this age group.  To administer the test at the very beginning of the student’s experience in the classroom limits the ability of kindergarten teachers to establish the social/emotional climate of the classroom for a productive learning environment.  

Some conservative news reports and editorials criticize Senate Bill 744, which suspends the essential skills test required for high school graduation. These commentators imply that by eliminating the essential skills test, it will somehow diminish educational quality or hurt minority students.

These arguments need a reality check. Under SB 744, students will still need to pass all required classes to graduate. It will not change the proficiency requirements set up for past generations. There is no credible evidence that graduation tests produce any positive outcomes, nor have they been found to have any predictive value of post-high school success. Grade Point Average (GPA) is the best predictor. Countless students have dropped out of high school because they assumed that they could not surmount a testing barrier for graduation. This has applied overwhelmingly to low-income students and students of color, which greatly impacts their future earning ability. 

[Editor’s note: For a review of research on state graduation test requirements and outcomes, visit FairTest.org.]

The developmentally inappropriate kindergarten tests and the unnecessary high school graduation testing requirement are just two examples of excessive, wasteful, and harmful standardized tests that now drive so much of what happens in our schools. We have now lived with this accountability and data driven educational model for more than 20 years. It has not worked. It is well past time for a change.

For more information about volunteering with the MultDems Education Study Group, visit https://multdems.org/volunteer/. The study group meets monthly via Zoom. To join, please email Margi Brown at .

Margi Brown
Margi Brown, Education Study Group Co-Chair