State releases graduation credit requirements

Sean C. Morgan

The Oregon Department of Education released Graduation Pathways 2020 Wednesday (April 8) with the message that COVID-19 won’t stop Oregon’s high school seniors.

The guidance details how oregon’s high school seniors can earn their final set of high school credits and graduate on time.

“COVID-19 won’t knock Oregon’s students off their path to graduation,” said Agency Director Colt Gill. “This guidance assures our students’ hard earned futures even during this global challenge.”

“I am happy that the governor, with the Oregon Department of Education, has finally given guidance for us,” said Sweet Home Supt. Tom Yahraes. “Seniors have been very patient in waiting out the school closure and waiting for guidance.

“Our students have made it through 13 years of education, including kindergarten, only to miss out on the last three months of school. They’ve made it so close to the finish line only to be hobbled by the virus, so I am happy with the government and ODE.”

Seniors will still need 24 credits to graduate, Yahraes said. “This guidance allows seniors to receive credit for any course in which they were passing at the time the school closure started. As a result, we can provide additional focus on securing credit-earning opportunities and learning for seniors who were not yet passing all required courses at the time of the school closure. And for the final spring semester, seniors will be awarded credit based on a Pass/Incomplete (or withdrawal) determination.”

Seniors who are taking college-level classes are working online to complete that portion of their classes.

High school Principal Ralph Brown said that of 163 seniors, 95 are finished with school. Nine of them finished on Friday.

Thirty-nine are completing college credit, Brown said, while about 26 have more work to do to qualify for graduation.

As the district evaluates the guidance, it will communicate additional details directly, and students who have finalized course completion for their diplomas will receive individual guidance on post-graduation plans, Yahraes said. In addition, high school staff will directly contact seniors who are short on credit or who are not passing their courses this semester and may set up individual distance learning plans.

“We will do everything we can to ensure that no senior misses out on the opportunity to earn a

diploma,” Yahraes said.

“We have to remember that we have a global pandemic occurring and we must be dedicated to doing what’s right for each student and their families,” said Gresham-Barlow School District Supt. Dr. A. Katrise Perera. “I believe we, as education leaders, have a moral obligation to keep students’ futures whole and their graduation pathways clear. This statewide approach to graduation is our best option.”

“There’s a lot of controversy about it,” said Sweet Home senior Casey Tow. “They’re just working with what they have.”

He is among those who are taking college-level classes online, including calculus and AP government.

Those types of classes present challenges, he said, because those teachers are hands-on style.

“They’re doing their best,” Tow said. “It’s no fun, but it’s what they have to work with.”

“I’m still taking online classes,” said senior Mariah Harrington. She is taking college level credit in anatomy and physiology, and that’s been a good experience.

“I think they’re handling it great,” she said. “It’s been kind of cool doing it online.”

The graduation decision has been a relief, she said. Waiting for the information had been stressful.

It’s been frustrating, Tow said, adding that reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic has been for everyone. And some have it worse than others.

The guidance on graduation is the result of collaboration among educators, administrator, culturally specific community-based organizations and the education community. The guidance recognizes that the closure is impacting less than 2 percent of seniors’ time spent learning from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The guidance maintains Oregon’s credit requirements while allowing seniors who were on track a path to graduation. It ensures that schools focus their resources to support students who need to complete additional credits to graduate, and it suspends essential skills and personalized learning requirements.

The good news is that the state did not decrease the requirement to 19 , Yahraes said. “So there won’t need to be an asterisk by the class of 2020’s diplomas. They’re going to honor the works the kids have done. It’s fair. It’s a fair rendering of the situation that we’re in. It’s not perfect, but it’s fair.”

The only downside, he said, is “I wish they would’ve come up with this decision two weeks ago.”

The information about graduation came the same day the governor extended the closure through the end of the school year and the graduation ceremony.

“The Class of 2020, we know that is particularly heartbreaking for you,” Yahraes said. “Sometimes the world throws challenges and disappointments at you. We are committed to finding creative ways to honor you and restore as much normalcy as we can. At this time, we have not received direction from the state about graduation ceremonies or the opportunity for students to reschedule milestone events like graduation ceremonies, but we will keep you updated as information becomes available.”

Tow and Harrington are both disappointed about the likely loss of a graduation ceremony.

“I hope that we can have an actual ceremony,” Harrington said. “I’ve worked really hard all these years.”

Getting a diploma in the mail would be a letdown, she said.

“We’re kind of hoping that there will just be something, like a parade maybe,” Tow said. That’s something he’s been talking about with his friends.

Harrington heard about this idea online and imagines some kind of parade of seniors collecting their diplomas as they drive by.

In response to the guidance, the state’s university system issued a statement: “The Oregon public universities are committed to ensuring that incoming freshman students who intend to enroll at our institutions are considered fairly in light of the educational interruption they have endured in their final year of high school. No student admitted to our institutions for fall 2020 will have their admission rescinded due to changes in grading policy or the inability to complete their coursework, as long as they graduate high school.

“Students who apply to our institutions are still subject to a review process that focuses on their ability to succeed in college, but the Oregon public universities recognize that some situations are beyond their control. We look forward to supporting students and high schools through this challenging time, both now and with future high school graduating classes impacted by the pandemic.”