The state is delaying tougher graduation requirements for high school students, giving a reprieve to incoming sophomores.

The Associated Press

PORTLAND — The state is delaying tougher graduation requirements for high school students, giving a reprieve to incoming sophomores.

The Board of Education voted last year to require every student, beginning with the class of 2012, to pass state tests in reading, math, writing and public speaking to get a diploma.

The board decided eight months ago to delay the requirement for students to pass the state math exam until 2014. Now it plans to delay the writing requirement until the class of 2013 and postpone the public speaking requirement until at least 2015. Members of the class of 2012 will still have to pass a reading test to graduate.

Board members said they veered from three of their original targets because of school budgets slashed by the recession.

About half of all sophomores fail the state writing and math tests on their first attempt. Oregon schools, because of an economic downturn that has reduced income tax revenue, will have less money per student in the next two school years than they did in 2007-08.

"This gives schools more time to organize their interventions," Duncan Wyse, chair of the Oregon school board, told The Oregonian newspaper. "If you throw too many things at once, we're concerned that there won't be the time to focus and do it well."

Superintendents had urged the board to delay the writing and math tests even longer — to 2014 for writing and 2016 for math. Educators worry they can't afford the extra teachers, training, textbooks and summer school programs that will be needed to get all high school students ready to pass, said Rob Saxton, superintendent of Tigard-Tualatin schools.

"It seems like putting one of these (mandatory graduation exams) in place and making sure we absolutely understand it and we absolutely can deliver on it is the right way to go, and then add another (subject) and then add another one," Saxton said.

Nationally, 70 percent of high school students must pass exit exams to get a diploma, according to the Center on Education Policy. Washington and California both instituted graduation tests in recent years.