Career readiness definition still eludes most states study finds

Career readiness definition still eludes most states study finds

(Penn.) At least 15 states still have ambiguous definitions for how schools should be preparing students for a career upon graduation, or lack standards altogether, according to a recent study from the University of Pennsylvania.

New analysis from the Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction and Learning at Penn’s Graduate School of Education ranked state policy on college and career readiness by examining the specificity and consistency of the polices, their stability, authority and power.

“For those states that ranked lower on specificity, it was because their definitions of college and career readiness weren't made available to the public, they simply don't exist, or because the definitions were too vague,” Katie Pak, lead researcher on the project, said in an email to Cabinet Report.

Only 11 states had high specificity ratings, and 24 had medium ratings including the District of Columbia. Wisconsin requested that the center not publish its state data.

As policymakers across the country seek to both educate students and prepare them for work in the 21st Century, many are coming to realize the difficulties in defining what constitutes ‘career ready,’ and how best to measure it. College readiness, on the other hand, can largely be determined through academic outcomes, coursework and college placement testing.

Georgia has in place the most extensive approach to prepare students for the workforce that begins in first grade and intensifies through grade 12 through comprehensive in-class lessons, assessments and job trainings in 96 different career pathways. Most states, however, rely on industry certificates or different versions of occupational skills assessments for a select few career options–including Texas, Kentucky, New Mexico, Oregon and Indiana.

Pak and other researchers analyzed state policies regarding college and career readiness and ranked them using five indicators:

  • Specificity, meaning how detailed and prescriptive a policy is, and how explicit the goals, guidelines and resources are to help schools implement them;
  • Consistency in how different policies align and supplement one another;
  • Authority coming from overall buy-in from stakeholders and their cooperation in the decision-making processes;
  • Power of the rewards or sanctions involved in reinforcing college and career readiness policies; and
  • Stability, or the extent to which policies change or remain constant over time.

Although no state was ranked high in all five categories, researchers found several states distinguished themselves in each of the policy attributes.

Arizona, New Jersey, Illinois and Maryland were among the 11 states that were found to have highly specific definitions of “college and career readiness,” according to Pak. States in which high school course offerings and requirements were most consistent with statewide college and career readiness expectations included California, Mississippi, Minnesota and Georgia.

A complication to developing good definitions, researchers found, was the frequency that lawmakers made changes to state curriculum standards overall, which they attribute to the political backlash of the Common Core State Standards. The most stable states were those that made the fewest number of standards and assessments changes between 2007 and 2016, according to the study–those states include Iowa, South Dakota, Vermont and Virginia.

Last year alone, the study identified 35 bills to repeal state standards, 26 to repeal statewide assessment systems, 62 to modify assessments, 67 to delay the implementation of or use of student achievement scores in state accountability systems, and 56 to modify the state accountability system.

Pak concluded in a blog post summarizing the research that the flurry of legislative activity to replace or modify state systems adopted at the height of Common Core’s popularity reflects declining membership in CCSS consortia, including the membership in the two federally funded summative assessments aligned to the standards.