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Are We Really Getting Them Ready?

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David N. Cook is the Director of Innovation and Partner Engagement at the Kentucky Department of Education.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that our fascination with high stakes accountability systems has actually made our high school graduates less ready for college and career. Why? As an education system, we haven't recognized that accountability measures that focus solely on assessment of knowledge of curriculum standards do a disservice to our students. Being able to read, write and demonstrate math knowledge are not the only readiness indicators. In fact, they are the bare minimum.

In my state, we have held conversations with the business community on several occasions. Without exception, they us that they don't terminate employees because they aren't able to grasp the content knowledge needed to do the job. Instead, they terminate employees because employees don't know what to do when they face a challenge or problem, they can't think creatively about new approaches to issues on the job, they can't adapt to new work, and most importantly they don't understand the importance of showing up to work and being persistent when faced with challenges.

These employers have one message to the education system: "Spend your energy bringing us more workers that have these skills. We can teach them the knowledge needed to do the job.

If we, as the U.S. public education system, are to remain viable in the 21st century, we must make this important shift to a system that highly values these essential skills. They must become essential to school district cultures, and our state and federal education policy must reflect and support this shift. We must recognize that accountability for schools must have content knowledge as the foundational floor, with the development of these skills the primary focus of what makes strong schools and districts.

A great example of this shift occurring in my state is in the Danville Independent Schools. Several years ago they implemented an extensive change in what it meant to graduate from the Danville Schools. They call it the Danville Diploma. You can find the full description here. You will notice two things: 1) content mastery is not mentioned directly but is embedded in the skills; 2) mastery of 11 essential skills is the priority focus:

• Persevere when faced with challenges

• Value and exercise creativity

• Discover how critical thinking skills are used across disciplines

• Become a functioning member of a team

• Exercise effective communication and presentation skills

• Understand the importance of taking initiative

• Learn about various aspects of leadership and develop those skills

• Adapt and problem solve

• Manage time and create a plan for accomplishing a task or goal

• Know how to find reliable and accurate information

• Analyze, synthesize and make inferences from data

Danville has made the shift. Their students will graduate with a real college and career readiness.

So, ask yourself this question: Are students in your education system REALLY college and career ready? Without this shift to an emphasis on essential skills, I fear the answer.

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