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Proficiency grading an option; no longer required

Something about your recent article on proficiency grading confused me. I seem to recall a time when Oregon required school districts to adopt the proficiency grading system. Is that no longer the case? — McKenzie

The Oregon Legislature did pass House Bill 2220 in 2011, McKenzie, but it’s less clear whether or not the bill mandated that school districts switch to proficiency grading by 2013. Depending on whether you asked legislators or Oregon Department of Education officials at that time, you might get differing answers.

“It was never intended to be a mandate,” Peter Buckley, who then represented Ashland, Phoenix-Talent and other southwest Rogue Valley communities in District 5, told the Oregonian in 2014 about HB 2220.

He was the bill’s chief sponsor; the bill required “assessments to show whether student meets or exceeds academic content standards of student’s grade level and to show student’s progress toward becoming proficient in continuum of knowledge and skills.”

Buckley and other legislators said that ODE misinterpreted the intent of the bill — that it was meant to give districts the option to adopt a proficiency-based grading system, but not force them to implement one.

ODE officials at the time told the Oregonian that they were interpreting the bill as it was written, not how lawmakers may have intended it.

Local districts, including the Eagle Point School District, adopted their proficiency grading system during that time.

Eagle Point also stuck with the system even after 2014, when Buckley was again the chief sponsor of HB 4150, which all but repealed the mandate on school districts to adopt a profiiency-based grading system by 2013.

“No district or school is required to adopt proficiency teaching and learning or proficiency grading and reporting,” said the general guidance for the bill, which was passed with an emergency clause that changed the ODE rules from HB 2220 in the middle of the 2014-2015 school year.

That’s why some Jackson County school districts find themselves with none or only some of their schools using the proficiency-based model for grading and teaching. Because of HB 4150, they’re in compliance with Oregon law.

Proficiency grading focuses on assessing how much a student understands by the end of a grading period, rather averaging out their scores throughout an academic term. It has been the source of controversy in some districts because students are allowed to retake assessments, while homework and participation often do not factor into final grades. In Eagle Point, some staff and community members have said the system is set up to raise graduation rates by lowering academic standards.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

Since You Asked