Friday, April 26, 2013

The State Education Department and College and Career Readiness

Someone recently asked me, “What does it mean to be College and Career Ready?”  That particular phrase is regularly used by every state and national education leader, and it appears in virtually every communication from the State Education Department.  The singular purpose behind adopting the Common Core Curriculum was that it was believed that these standards will make students College and Career Ready.  Well, what does that mean? 
The definition begins with the highly commendable goal that all students should be ready for college study or to begin their working careers when they graduate from high school.  But being ready for the Fashion Institute of Technology and Caltech require different sets of readiness skills.  And for the student who masters welding at the BOCES 2 WE-MO-CO Career and Technical Education Center, readiness means preparation to walk right into a skilled job with a metals fabrication company. 

How can the State Education Department characterize readiness for such different paths in terms that will be meaningful?   Given the desire to find ways to objectively evaluate students, the department has developed a general standard for readiness.  Relying on a review of student high school records compared with the performance of college freshman, they deduced that for students to be able to do C work or better in college, they need to have received a score of at least 75 on their English Regents and an 80 on their math Regents. 
The high school graduation rate used to be the standard for measuring a school’s effectiveness.  But now, as a result of the conclusions about freshman year performance, the State Education Department reports how many students meet this 75/80 achievement level.  They report how many students graduated and also how many graduated College and Career Ready.

But when readiness is defined so numerically, does it really tell the public if students are prepared for the career path they want to pursue?  Simply meeting the readiness standard will not help a student get into Caltech, and missing the standard does not mean someone won’t thrive at the Fashion Institute of Technology.  Doing well on the English and math Regents exams is certainly an important goal, but when the public is told that students are not ready for college or career, they need to know if that decision is based on a full assessment of a student’s preparation and abilities. 

The state is trying to set a meaningful standard.  The question is, is this a meaningful and appropriate standard for all students?  If all the students do not meet this particular standard, does it mean a school has failed?  If a particular student does not meet this standard, does that mean the child is a failure?

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