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Can a 'Career Readiness' Seal on High School Diplomas Help Students?

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Students graduating from high school in Ohio next spring can get a new seal on their diplomas that signifies their mastery of job skills like teamwork and creativity.

Many states have long awarded seals, or endorsements, that indicate students have completed a career and technical education course of study. But this seal is different; no courses in career-tech-ed are required. Ohio's new seal focuses on skills that employers in many fields told the state they consider essential for success.

Some of the 15 skills on Ohio's list are what many advocates have long referred to as "soft" or "21st century" skills—things like teamwork, punctuality, leadership, and having a good work ethic. Others, like critical thinking, reflect longstanding educator goals. Still others reflect a more recent focus on skills that are particularly necessary in a modern economy that's shaped by globalism and technology: mastery of digital tools and "global/intercultural fluency." One of the 15 "skills" is actually a pledge to be drug-free.

To earn the seals, Ohio students have to work with at least three adults, from school, work, or their community, who can validate that they've mastered particular skills. 

Ohio created the career-readiness seal as part of its budget legislation last summer. The state's department of K-12 and higher education worked with the governor's "workforce transformation" office to produce an initial list of skills, drawing from groups like the National Association of Colleges and Employers, The Conference Board, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and Corporate Voices for Working Families. A survey of Ohio businesses also informed the development of the skills list.

Students who want the career seal will have to comply with Ohio's graduation rules, which require passing specified courses and graduation exams. Ohio recently revamped graduation requirements, so students have a menu of options in addition to passing those courses and tests. They must complete two options from a list that the state developed.

They could choose to earn a 2.5 grade-point average in their senior-year courses and attend school 93 percent of the time. Or they could go a different route, passing the WorkKeys test and completing a capstone project. There are other options on that list, too.

Ohio's career-readiness seal reflects trends that are new and those that have been around a long time. States have long offered career-technical-education endorsements, or seals for advanced coursework, for instance. But more recently, they've begun to offer diploma seals in fields like STEM or biliteracy. California is developing an endorsement that will reflect mastery of civics and government.


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