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Oregon Cracks Down on Schools That Fail to Meet Instructional-Time Rules

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Portland public high schools are revising their schedules to add more instructional time after the Oregon Department of Education ruled that they are failing to meet the state's requirement for minimum hours per course.

State law requires that schools provide a minimum of 990 hours of instructional time each year in grades 9-12 and offer at least 130 hours of instructional time per course.

However, as reported in Willamette Week and other local media, Portland parents claimed the hours per course dipped below the minimum after the urban district moved to an eight-period block schedule and cut some teachers in 2011 to make up for a projected budget shortfall. The parents filed a formal complaint with the state education department in November, and Oregon Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Rob Saxton issued a report on the matter last week.

District officials admitted that schools were offering fewer than 130 hours of instructional time per course, but argued that they could still offer credit for those courses if students met recognized standards of knowledge, because state law allows students to earn high school credits by demonstrating proficiency or mastery of content and skills. Saxton disagreed, declaring that alternative ways of earning credit do not free schools from their obligation to provide 130 hours of classroom time per course.

Saxton found that high schools were complying with the 990-hour mandate by offering that amount of time in an eight-period schedule. But he argued that schools were not complying with the spirit of the law because they were forbidding or discouraging students from taking eight classes. In 2013, the district capped the number of classes a student could take at six or seven, depending on grade level, but removed the class limit in its final budget in May. By that time, however, most students had chosen their classes and redoing their schedules required extra permission slips in some cases. Only 30 percent of Portland high-schoolers—and just 11 percent of seniors—are taking eight classes in the current school year.

The Portland school district must submit its new schedule to the state by June 11. This week, Portland Superintendent Carole Smith announced the district would add 150 teachers and extend the school year to 178 days in 2014-15. (Oregon school districts have some of the shortest school years in the United States.)

Oregon's hard line on instructional time applies to all schools in the state. Any Oregon district that is not offering 130 hours of instruction per course in high school must add time to their schedule by the fall or else credits issued by those schools will be invalid, Saxton told the Oregonian. "We recognize that there are other school districts out of compliance with the 130 hour requirement," he said.

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