CORVALLIS - The educational abilities of Oregon high school students who hope to go on to college will be the subject of intense study and debate at an upcoming meeting of educators, as they try to wrestle with the basic question of "how good is good enough?"

On May 24 in Portland, a conference will include more than 100 high school teachers and administrators representing 50 Oregon high schools, and college faculty from all of the schools in the Oregon University System.

They will gather to decide what type of work is sufficient to "pass" students on to college - in other words, meet the guidelines of the new Proficiency Based Admission Standard System, or PASS.

It's getting down to crunch time to decide what we expect Oregon's college-bound students to know, said Robby Robson, education reform coordinator with Oregon State University.

"Students who aspire to college are already deeply involved with the new CIM and CAM programs, and should be taking them seriously," Robson said. "There's much less awareness of the PASS program which is still in its developmental stages. But students should take PASS seriously, too, because it will help get them into college."

CIM, CAM and PASS are all related parts of the new move towards "standards-based" education, in which students must demonstrate a clearly defined body of knowledge and set of skills in subjects such as math, English and science, through samples of their work, standardized tests and other means.

OSU, Robson said, is deeply committed to this concept. Standards-based education is an evolving national trend, and many admissions officers from around the nation will also be attending the May 24 meetings in Portland because of Oregon's leadership role in this movement.

Robson said that PASS won't necessarily make college admissions more restrictive, although one of the overall goals of standards-based education is to raise attainment levels. But PASS will clearly make the admissions process more accurate. College admissions directors at OSU and elsewhere will have more information beyond just high school grades or SAT scores on which to make their decisions.

"Part of what will make the PASS data so useful is its ability to get the right students in college who have a chance to succeed, and make sure they are advised and placed in courses appropriate for their abilities," Robson said.

The upcoming meeting at Portland State University will be important, Robson said, because the teachers and administrators from both high school and college will be looking at hundreds of examples of student work in English and math to decide what constitutes work sufficient for college entry.

"These packages of material will be scored just as if students were actually applying for college admission," Robson said. "We want to see if they've demonstrated proficiency, if the assignments they've done are appropriate to the questions we're asking, if the overall impression is one of adequacy."

Last February, the Oregon State Board of Higher Education reconfirmed its commitment to the PASS program, Robson said. It's supposed to be operational for math and English beginning in 2001, science in 2002, social science in 2003, arts in 2004 and second languages by 2005.

The Pew Charitable Trust is providing $1.45 million for the project to get the program working initially at 59 high schools across the state, affecting more than 68,000 students.

So what's good enough? Actually, the bar appears to be set pretty high.

In mathematics, for instance, students who PASS will be expected to understand two and three-dimensional geometric models, analytic geometry and trigonometry. A person who's simply "proficient" would be expected to whip out right triangle relationships using sines, cosines and the Pythagorean theorem. To be considered "advanced," add in vector geometry to represent physical phenomena.

In English, a "proficient" student would have read literature from a variety of literary periods and movements, a variety of cultures and in a variety of forms. They would analyze how form, technique, and language are used in a variety of oral, visual, written and multi-media communications. Final drafts of reports would be virtually free of any errors in language, grammar or syntax.

"We're still interpreting the standards and working out the fine points, and the Portland meeting will be a big step towards that goal," Robson said. "But standards-based education is an idea whose time has come.

"We are confident that Oregon students and Oregon teachers can work together to meet the standards needed, to prepare high school graduates for a college education and the increasing number of careers that require one."

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Robby Robson, 541-737-5171