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Here's How Career Readiness Figures Into State ESSA Plans

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The Every Student Succeeds Act gave states a chance to put a much bigger focus on career readiness when it comes to rating schools, fixing those that are low-performers, spending federal funds, and setting goals. So did states take advantage of the flexibility?

They did—to a point, according to a new analysis from Advance CTE, which advocates for workforce education. Nearly every state had some sort of strategy to grow career readiness in their plans.

The biggest lever was accountability plans. Thirty-five states will hold high schools accountable for some sort of career-focused measure. And another eight are hoping to incorporate those measures down the line. One standout: New Hampshire, which has proposed holding schools accountable for the percentage of high school kids who have met specific benchmarks on two of the following measures: dual enrollment, SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, industry-recognized credentials, career pathway completion, or ACT career readiness.

More than half of states set some sort of vision for college and career readiness. And 13 connected those visions to their long-term goals for student achievement. One standout: South Carolina, which outlined life, academic, and careers skills it wants its graduates to have. The state wants 90 percent of students to graduate with those skills by 2035. The state also wants to cut down annually on the percentage of students who need remediation to take college-level courses, by 5 percent per year.  

Thirty-six states said they'd like to support career readiness through Title IV, a flexible part of ESSA. But only 15 had a state-level activity in mind. For instance, Mississippi will use the funds to support access to dual enrollment, Advanced Placement, and early-college high schools.

Seven states said they would use their Title II money to help support professional development related to career readiness. One standout: Indiana, which is using Title II money to hike up the number of educators certified for dual enrollment.  

Two states will use a portion of their Title I money to support things like Advanced Placement courses, International Baccalaureate courses, and career and technical education.  

"It is a positive sign that nearly every state either included or plans to include some measure of career readiness in their accountability system," according to the report. But it went on to say that "most states did not fully leverage ESSA's flexibility to improve their readiness systems." For instance, very few states pegged their ESSA goals to their career-readiness aspirations.

The report notes that the Trump administration's changes to the process for crafting ESSA plans may have contributed to this lack of specificity. 


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