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California Struggles to Define Career Readiness

Indicators of college readiness—grades, scores on the ACT or SAT, taking an Advanced Placement course—are easier to agree upon than what it means to be "career ready."

As California considers changes to its school accountability system, policymakers are trying to decide how to assess a high school student's readiness for the world of work.

An article this week in EdSource Today outlines the discussion taking place in the state's Public Schools Accountability Act Advisory Committee as it works to overhaul its Academic Performance Index (or API), as mandated by a 2012 law.

(See an item in the State Ed Watch blog by Andrew Ujifusa, noting that the advisory committee has consistently struggled to figure out the best indicators with a broad reach that also "provide valid and reliable data that can be used to indicate college and career readiness.")

The EdSource article quotes University of Oregon Professor David Conley, who serves as a consultant to the state committee, as saying there's still a lot to learn about what it means to be ready for careers. 

"It's not to say there aren't measures—there are measures," he said in the article. "But what you're going to see is it's going to be very difficult to just pluck a measure and say that's a good representation of career readiness."

Among the options Conley highlighted: WorkKeys by ACT, the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute's assessment and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. However, Conley says those tests were designed to meet the needs of employers and not to measure schools' performance.

Some members of the California panel suggest that the state may provide schools with an array of options or a report card format with several indicators to demonstrate they have met the career-readiness criteria.

California is not alone in its search. Many states are struggling with how to measure the full range of college and career readiness skills, which includes not only the core academic skills, but also the critical technical and employability skills, according to Kate Blosveren Kreamer, the associate executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc).

"What makes this so difficult is that there isn't any one indicator or test that will be able to get at all of these skills. It will take multiple measures. But if college and career readiness is the goal, then this is where state accountability systems need to go," Kreamer wrote in an email.

Twenty-nine states publicly report a career-focused readiness indicator, build one or more into their accountability system, or do both, according to a report, Making Career Readiness Count, issued in May by NASDCTEc and Achieve, a Washington-based research and advocacy group. Meanwhile, 22 states publicly report on one or more indicators of career readiness through their state report cards at the school or district level, most commonly using indicators already collected by states for federal reporting under the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

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