For years, Oregon was too easy on students

College & Career Readiness, Current Events & News | 07/28/2015

Kelsey Cardwell
Marketing & Communications Director

Kelsey oversees Oregon's marketing and communications.

Picture this: An Oregon high school student registers for the necessary classes to graduate, studies hard, excels on tests and posts an outstanding GPA. Excited to pursue her dreams and make her parents proud, she enrolls in her local community college, determined to be the first in her family to complete a college degree. Upon entering community college, she finds out that she needs to take, and pay for, three terms of remedial math before she can start receiving credit for college math.

Her story is not unique. In fact, in Oregon, it’s pretty typical.

In May, the Oregonian’s Betsy Hammond reported that 75 percent of Oregon high school graduates that go directly to community college must take additional high school coursework before enrolling in credit-bearing classes. What’s happening in Oregon high schools so students end up unprepared for the next step? And are students aware of what’s going on?

A low bar on statewide tests

In 2011, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), compared state’s grading scales for their various standardized tests for fourth- and eighth-graders. Oregon was one of the easier state tests to “pass,” particularly for fourth graders.

This means that for their K-12 education, Oregon students were graded on a not-so-competitive scale. However, when Oregon students start applying to college, taking college-entrance exams, and competing for jobs, they enter a world where the bar is higher. They start competing against students and workers from out-of-state who spent their K-12 education with more rigorous standards.

Oregon recently raised the bar by adopting Common Core State Standards and administering an aligned test. Students performed much better than was expected on this new, more difficult test. However, there’s still a lot of work to do in order to get more students to reach these higher standards. 

A low bar for graduation

Oregon is one of 25 states that does not require or automatically enroll students in Algebra II, according to recent reporting by NPR. Side note: Oregon updated its high school graduation requirements in 2014 to three years of math at Algebra I and above (which doesn’t necessarily get students to Algebra II), whereas previously the requirement was simply three years of math.

That could explain why math, in particular, stumps incoming community college students. Hammond’s article elaborates that nearly two-thirds of high school graduates need remedial math. Most test into an introductory algebra class, and have to take three terms of remedial courses. More often than not, they never make it to college math courses.

So what’s that costing students?

According to a 2012 report by the National Bureau of Economic Research, college freshman in the U.S. spend $7 billion annually on high-school level coursework.

A 2011 study by the Alliance for Excellent Education determined that the United States loses $5.6 billion by providing remediation in college. The study says that Oregon lost a total of $73 million when factoring in other costs associated with students taking extra time to earn their degree.

Tell us what you know

Do you have experiences with any of these challenges? Do you have ideas of what Oregon should do to get more students on track to college? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • This is so true. But also- Living in a new college town, I felt that PPS did not give me the science skills I needed to be a Biology major in college. Leading me to go from a 4.01 HS GPA to 2.2 college GPA...I blamed myself but I also know that high school was a breeze. Once in college, I studied 4 hours a day, got a tutor and still couldn't pass basic Biology and O-CHem....I am glad that this problem is addressed. And hope the next generation gets a better, more solid ed from the get-go. Boo on 'no child left behind!'
    Lydia A-M.

    August 13, 2015 12:49 PM