Students struggle to meet state writing goal

The Associated Press /

SALEM — Nearly a quarter of the seniors who might otherwise graduate from the Salem-Keizer district this spring still haven’t passed a state writing test, a hurdle Oregon students face as a graduation requirement for the first time this year.

Typically, Oregon students take the test in their junior year, and last year, about 42 percent of Salem-Keizer students failed, the Statesman Journal reported.

Seniors get multiple chances to pass. Since the beginning of the school year, the number of students failing has been whittled from 731 to 515 — a quarter of a typical graduating class with a 70 percent graduation rate.

Seniors get the results of the latest tests in April. If they fail, they have two months to compose two passing writing work samples or they don’t graduate.

North Salem High School senior Chris Arnold said he’s optimistic this time around, but it’s a lot of pressure: “The stress of knowing that if you don’t pass this test, you won’t graduate.”

The tests are part of a state effort begun in 2007 to make sure graduates are ready for college.

Last year, for the first time, passing the reading test was required for seniors to graduate, and a few dozen Salem-Keizer students missed out because they didn’t hit the mark. Next year, a mathematics test will be added.

High schools around the district launched writing-intensive programs, classes and support this year like those they created last year to help students reach the reading goal.

At the start of the year, nearly 70 percent of the graduating class at North Salem High School hadn’t passed the writing test. The school made senior English writing focused, and it offers after-school writing labs twice a week, as well as a one-time writing workshop.

Since then, 67 students reached the benchmark, and more will do so when the next test numbers come, Assistant Principal Rolland Hayden said.

“I feel like our writing results will be dramatically different after spring break,” he said.

For those who don’t graduate in the spring, the district will hold summer school, and that program also includes a graduation ceremony.

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