I recently reviewed the Every Student Succeeds Act plans from the 17 states (including DC) who have submitted their plans for review by the U.S. Department of Education. Of interest to me were the measures that states are using to identify college and career readiness. I also researched the draft plans of the other 33 states and if they did not have a plan available, I looked at the existing state accountability model.
What I found is very interesting. During the NCLB era, there were very few states who utilized a measure in the state accountability model for college and career readiness. Kentucky and Louisiana were among the very few states to have actual measures of college and career readiness included in their models. Based on my quick review, 25 states will have measures of college and career readiness in their new ESSA state accountability model. 10 states are continuing to discuss the inclusion of a measure and 16 states do not have any plans for college- and career-ready measures.
Why the change in state measures? Some part of the change is due to the public perception of the “honesty gap.” For years, high school graduation rates have been improving. The United States currently has the highest graduation rate in the history of the nation—over 80 percent. However, the postsecondary remediation rate in some states is over 70 percent of high school graduates. This means that a high school diploma does not validate that a student is academically prepared for college credit-bearing courses. Also, the research has been very clear that many of America’s high school graduates are not prepared for entry level academic and/or technical programs that lead to jobs that pay a living wage.
States have been responding to these concerns. Council of Chief State School Officers and numerous other national and regional organizations have been responding to the “honesty gap” issue and one of the strongest policy responses is to include college and career readiness in the state accountability model.
However, there is a growing concern with the models that I have seen to this point. Most states have been using a “menu” model for state accountability. Schools will be held accountable based on the percentage of students who choose among menu options. The menu of college and career indicators usually includes student performance on Advance Placement, dual credit courses, International Baccalaureate exams, WorkKeys, SAT, ACT, Accuplacer, completion of a CTE course of study, ASVAB, and industry-recognized certifications. These measures are good measures, however, there are some potential pitfalls that states should avoid or we will find that many students are pushed toward measures that are seen as “lesser than” measures and most of these are aligned with the career-ready label.
“Career ready” should be a measure that ALL students who graduate from high school have obtained. Whether a student is preparing to become a surgeon or obtain a two-year technical credential, ALL students need to have academic preparation equal to the requirements of entry-level postsecondary courses. While some students will focus primarily on the academic measures, many students will already know that they have an interest in a career area and these students should have an opportunity to gain the technical skills that will give them advance credit and preparation for their future studies.
The bottom line is that career readiness needs to be something all students strive for as a graduation measure and must include measures of both academic and technical skills. College readiness should be a subset of career readiness and only ensures a student is academically prepared to enter postsecondary credit bearing courses. If the career-ready measures used by our states are a “lesser than” model, then we will continue to perpetuate the myth that “career-ready courses are for those other students and not for my students.” Our nation has a perception problem when it comes to career education in high school and we have a great opportunity to address that problem with the ESSA accountability models. If readers want to see a few states that have good models of career-ready measures, I refer them to the Delaware, Tennessee and Louisiana plans that can be found at www.ccsso.org/essa.This guest piece was written by Terry Holliday, former commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education and current board chairman of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Dr. Holliday was also ACTE’s 2016 Champion of the Year, and continues to play an active role in education at the national level through involvement in projects like New Skills for Youth. We are pleased to share his insights into ESSA implementation*!