Are they ready? College and career readiness the focus of 2009 standards now in effect

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By Tracy Harris

College and career readiness is now a benchmark for high school students across the state, and local officials say Oldham County students are off to a good start.

The new standards, part of Senate Bill 1 from 2009, are designed to increase college completion and job attainment for high school graduates.

College readiness will be determined by a student’s score on one of three tests — the ACT, now required for all juniors; or the ACT’s Compass or state-designed KYOTE.

To attain college readiness status, a student must reach set scores in the three main areas — English, math and reading.

Those scores are 18, 19 and 20, respectively, said Dave Marshall, the district’s secondary-level academic director.

Currently, all three local high scores average over those three scores, according to 2011-12 data for juniors taking the exam.

For students who miss those benchmark scores, two other online exams can be taken during their senior year.

The Compass college placement test is administered by ACT. KYOTE is a similar test developed by several Kentucky agencies. 

The district’s college readiness marks are high enough to put it in the state’s top ten for percent of students ready, at 66 percent. 

Marion and Hickman counties are the only other county-wide districts scoring in the 60-80 percent range for college and career readiness.

But, Marshall points out Oldham County is achieving that figure without any career-ready students counted.

The district does not currently administer either test used in the two-part career readiness calculation.

Career readiness is calculated in two parts, according to Marshall.

“It’s like ordering from a Chinese menu,” he said. “You pick one from column A and one from column B.”

That column A includes two exams. Students must pass either the ASVAB or the WorkKeys exam.

The ASVAB, developed by the U.S. military in 1968, measures developed abilities and helps predict future academic and occupational successes in the military.

The ACT company has created a similar exam called WorkKeys, which students can take as an alternative to the ASVAB.

To achieve the career readiness designation, students must also pass either the Kentucky Occupational Skill Standards Assessment or receive an industry certification.

The KOSSA exam focuses on occupational, employability and academic competencies.

Industry certifications are available from numerous professional organizations and include Adobe and Microsoft technology, carpentry, nursing and many other career fields.

Marshall said he is working with school principals and other administrators to determine the best options for career readiness in Oldham County schools, including options for administering the ASVAB or WorkKeys tests. 

“The workforce has changed,” Marshall said, adding that he expects a nationwide push towards career readiness to happen soon.

That shift is happening as increasing numbers of college students are unable to find a job after graduation.

According to a Rutgers University study released in May, only 51 percent of students graduating college since 2006 have a full-time job. 

And it’s getting worse — fewer than half of students who graduated since 2009 found their first job within 12 months of graduation.

Several years ago, the state legislature cut funding for technical and career programs at local high schools. Oldham County Board of Education members voted to direct local funding to the Arvin Education Center near Oldham County High School.

In the past three years, the school has seen considerable growth — more than 60 students were turned away just in the health sciences program, according to director Matt Watkins.

The center offers four career clusters — automative, culinary arts, information technology and health sciences. Many courses are dual credit with specific post-secondary schools. 

Students continue taking general education courses at their home school while attending classes at the Arvin Center.

Last week, Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order combining two career and technical education systems under the same umbrella to create a unified system at the middle and high school level.

Currently, some programs are run by local schools and others by the state.

Local high schools can operate career and technical schools using state and local funds and report to the Kentucky Department of Education.

The state also has 53 technical centers for 123 school districts, paid for with state funds. Those programs report to the Department for Workforce Investment.

Both systems will now be part of the KDE.

“The merger will certainly change the Commonwealth’s support and importance of career and technical programs,” Watkins said. “However, the Oldham County Schools district has long recognized the importance of this part of education.”

Watkins noted each high school has some career and technical programs built in, with the Arvin Education Center offering expanded opportunities.

“Hopefully, the merger will allow our district to raise the number of careering offerings,” he said. “The toughest part is waiting on resources to be provided from the state.”

Funding and facility concerns are preventing the district from expanding its offerings, Watkins said. While he hopes the merger will offer some relief to those issues, he plans to continue improving offerings for student careers before, during and after college.

“Oldham County Schools will continue to strive to offer students programs that create a well-rounded, career-ready young adult,” he said.