Ignorance for Equity

Several Oregon high schools dropped significantly in U.S. News and World Report’s rankings recently. The reason is not quite what you would expect, however. It’s not necessarily a big drop in student learning. Oregon doesn’t have a monopoly on post-COVID learning loss.

The drop in rankings is due to a more disturbing problem. The Oregon Department of Education refused to provide U.S. News with Oregon’s Advanced Placement (AP) scores and participation data, so, rather than give N/As to Oregon high schools, the most authoritative source of education rankings used generic placeholder numbers corresponding to averages, a common method to smooth out missing data points. This made Oregon’s above-average schools drop in the rankings. For example, Lake Oswego High School dropped from number 5 last year to number 27.

And just like that, we became a more equitable society! On paper, you’d never know the difference between a Lake Oswego grad and his cohort peer in Astoria.

And equity was indeed the rationale for withholding the data. After inquiries from top Oregon high schools about what happened, Dan Farley, Assistant Superintendent at the Oregon Department of Education, sent out an apologetic message to school districts last week, saying: “This decision was made with an eye toward a more equitable and hopeful future, but without consultation of districts to consider all possible implications.”

There’s the rub! If folks are less knowledgeable about reality, the thinking goes, then we’d be more hopeful. This must be the thinking behind the extended suspension of Oregon high school graduation standards. What we don’t know can’t hurt our perception of academic achievement in the Beaver State?

Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.