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Applying work-ready tools.

RECENT FOCUS ON OUR COUNTRY'S SKILL GAP, THE NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT (NCLB), and other influences have illustrated the need for an abrupt and disruptive change in our educational system. It remains to be seen how--or if--the system as it is designed will tolerate revolutionary transformation. Regardless of the answer, the change will happen. In response, many educational systems across the country are employing widely-accepted tools and supplemental curricula within their current programs in order to ease the pain of this transition, making revolutionary change feel a little more evolutionary. Foremost among such tools are career-ready, or work-ready, curricula and measurements. Best practices outlined in this article are not only preparing students for the 21st century workforce, but are also helping to meet NCLB's Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and satisfy Perkins requirements.

Social and Educational Change

Recent developments have driven new thought about how we educate our students in this country; however, our way of doing things really hasn't changed much. We know that the type of education our students receive must change for modern times; however it is essential to recognize that changes in the social contracts we all seem to accept must parallel the educational transformation. While we are not outspoken about it, as a society we still generally accept these conventions:

* The top students, the brightest from our high schools, continue their education and earn professional degrees.

* The next tier of students, those with good cognitive skills, enters into apprenticeship programs, technical schools, or obtains two-year degrees.

* The third group completes high school or drops out and works in factories and in businesses owned by the first two groups.

* The last group, special needs students who are physically or cognitively challenged, is mainstreamed into further education or work if feasible, enters special transition programs, or is cared for by the first three groups.

As mentioned, we aren't explicit about this social contract, hut this is primarily how we still operate. To change this system, we must embrace methods to teach, measure and credential the skills necessary for workplace success in a way that is understood by both schools and businesses.

Ready for College and Work

We can blame globalization or many other factors but regardless of the reason, the old contract doesn't work anymore. Sixty-four percent of jobs now require some postsecondary training or a two-year degree. Many of the lower-skilled jobs previously filled by high school graduates or dropouts are now outsourced to workers in other countries or filled by imported labor. Students' ability to compete for family wage jobs will depend in large part on their skills and what they can do, not just what they know.

Building on Results: A Blueprint for Strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act reflects some of the challenges this changed world poses. NCLB emphasizes both the importance of academic skill achievement as an accountability measure for all students and student readiness for the transition into employment, training or college. Every student is expected to graduate with a diploma "that indicates readiness for success in postsecondary education and the 21st century workforce."

In 2006, ACT released the results of a study researching the comparability of skills in reading and math needed by students to succeed in the workplace with the academic skills needed for success in college. The findings summarized in Ready for College and Ready for Work: Same or Different? suggest that "all high school students should be educated according to a common academic expectation that prepares them for both postsecondary education and the workforce." The implications of this research mirror the objectives of NCLB--all students should graduate high school ready to succeed in college and the workplace.

Resources--Defining and Measuring Skills

Today's prospects for students transitioning from secondary education depend largely on the skills they can apply in the workplace. In response, many educational systems are employing work readiness resources to facilitate the transition from high school to further education or employment. A resource that is proving valuable is the ACT WorkKeys job skill system. The WorkKeys system is being applied in an increasing number of secondary and postsecondary institutions to prepare students for the transition from high school to community college or the workplace, and from postsecondary education to careers.

WorkKeys is a system that measures the real-world skills that employers have indicated are critical to job success. The skills are applied in any occupation--skilled or professional--and at any level of education. WorkKeys is used by companies, workforce development programs, government agencies, and educational institutions to select, train and retain qualified employees. Most importantly the system is sanctioned by businesses across the country. The National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) system is based on WorkKeys' Reading for Information, Applied Mathematics, and Locating Information assessments. Students and job seekers across the country can obtain a certificate that documents their level of skills and allows for a direct comparison to the skills required for occupations. Some educators have an NCRC goal for all students. Individual Education Plans for special needs or at-risk students might include a career readiness certificate goal where feasible.

Best Practices in Special Populations

States and school systems are recognizing the value of these work-ready skills. The Virginia Department of Education offers an alternative high school diploma for certain students with disabilities who are unlikely to meet the credit requirements for a standard diploma. Cut-off scores on the WorkKeys Reading for Information and Applied Mathematics assessments are approved measures of literacy and numeracy for the modified standard diploma.

Illinois includes the WorkKeys Reading for Information and Applied Mathematics tests in the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE), a state assessment administered to all grade 11 students. The PSAE assesses the progress of schools and individual students in meeting the Illinois Learning Standards for math, reading, science and writing. KeyTrain is being utilized as a supplemental curriculum in hundreds of schools in Illinois with significant success.

Best Practices in Special Populations

Supplemental curriculum for applied skills is being used effectively in high schools with all students, including at-risk populations. An example is Baldwin County High School in Georgia. A doctoral candidate teaching at the school conducted a study to evaluate how using KeyTrain impacted the performance of at-risk students on the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT.) The results of this study revealed that the KeyTrain remediation courses had a dramatic effect in improving the academic performance of the students who used it on the mathematics and English and language arts sections of the GHSGT. The most significant gains were seen in the special education, low socio economic, and African American subgroups on the mathematics section of the test.

The Challenge

Change is imminent. If students cannot attain the skills needed for success in college or the workplace, they will not compete in the 21st century economy. Resources that aid in improving student readiness for further education or employment in this competitive world will be invaluable tools in the educator's toolkit and can provide a realistic path to the necessary change in our education system.

Justin Saylor is vice president of KeyTrain. He can be contacted at justin.
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Title Annotation:THE LAST WORD
Author:Saylor, Justin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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