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New report shows Common Core has “little impact” on states’ career and technical tests

career-assessmentsWith a nationwide emphasis on preparing students for the workplace, accompanied by a push to use the Common Core State Standards to buoy these skills, a new report sheds light on the varying ways in which states and school districts assess students’ career and technical skills.

The report, “Career Readiness Assessments Across the States: A Summary of Survey Findings,” from the Center on Education Policy (CEP), found that while most states give one or more assessments of career readiness, technical, or employability skills to high school students, the types of tests used vary considerably across states and are sometimes decided at the school district level.

Despite the fact that Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses are not always part of the required curriculum, 96 percent of students take at least one CTE course, and 38 percent take three or more, according to 2013 statistics from the U.S. Department of Education–thus, knowing how states assess course outcomes is critical, stakeholders say.

(Next page: State definitions and types of assessments)

“With so much attention being paid to what it means for students to be college- and career-ready, it is important for policymakers and the public to understand how states and school districts are defining and assessing career and technical readiness,” said Maria Ferguson, CEP executive director. “The sheer number of assessments being used by both states and districts indicate that career readiness can mean many different things even within one state or district.”

The report is based on a summer 2013 survey of state directors of career and technical education in 46 states, including the District of Columbia, and is the first broad overview of state policies for defining career readiness and assessing these skills since the 2010 adoption of the Common Core.

Barely a definition; types of assessments

According to the report, while 45 states report that they or their districts assess students for career readiness, only 14 states have established a definition of what it means for a high school student to be career- or work-ready. Another 20 states are in the process of developing such a definition.

Also, states and their school districts are using various assessments to gauge career readiness. Among the most common tests are ACT’s WorkKeys, used in 32 states to assess employability skills or applied academics related to career readiness, and various types of industry-based certification or licensing exams, used in 38 states to assess students’ technical skills.

Other assessments include the ASVAB  developed by the U.S. Department of Defense and typically available to any student, especially those interested in a military career, and the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) assessments.

Several states also reported using other ways of measuring technical skills, including student projects, portfolios, or competitions, notes the report. For example, in Missouri, students’ technical skills are evaluated at Career and Technical Student Organization competitions at the local, state, and national levels. In Utah, teachers assess performance indicators in each course as part of the Utah Skill Certification Exam program.

(Next page: Common Core and challenges)

No relation to Common Core

While the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will help shape curriculum, instruction, and assessment for all students in 45 states (including D.C.), according to the survey, which included 40 of those adopting states, the CCSS have had “little impact thus far on career and technical assessments.”

Survey respondents in just 11 states reported that their career readiness assessments have been aligned or are currently being aligned to CCSS. Respondents in 20 states said it was too soon to know whether or how their career and technical assessments might change in response to the new standards.

“Some of this uncertainty about the impact of the Common Core may be related to the huge variety of career and technical education assessments being used and the nature of some of these assessments,” said Jennifer McMurrer, co-author of the report. “The specific technical skills assessed by an industry certification exam or a state- or locally-developed assessment linked to a particular career pathway would be inherently different from the broader skills that all students should have to be career-ready.”

According to the report, the College- and Career-Ready Determination (CCRD) policy states that the PARCC assessments (one of two assessments developed by state consortia for the CCSS) are designed to measure academic preparedness for postsecondary education, “not all of the skills needed to be career-ready.”

The survey also includes information about how states use the results of career and technical assessments.

A majority (38) of responding states reported using these results to meet the federal accountability requirements of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act, but fewer than half of the survey states use these results for school accountability (21 states) and/or student accountability (19 states).

Only a few states (4) permit students to substitute scores on career and technical assessments for scores on the high school exit exams that students must pass in some states to receive a diploma.

Challenges for states

“States are facing quite a few challenges with their assessments systems—even those states that have defined what it means for a high school graduate to be career- and work-ready,” said McMurrer.

Nearly all of the survey states (45) are experiencing some type of challenges in assessing high school students’ career readiness or technical and employability skills. The most commonly cited challenges include funding the assessments, getting assessment results from third party providers, and defining which career education and career readiness standards should be assessed.

For information on how CTE assessments are funded, how states define career readiness, how states use their specific assessments, state challenges, and assessment profiles, visit the report’s main page.

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