After three years, readiness measures are still not ready

After three years, readiness measures are still not ready

In 1970 when Bob Dylan put out a double album consisting of covers, outtakes and unremarkable live performances, a review in Rolling Stone opened with, “What is this sh*t?” The same kind of reaction was offered by the California State Board of Education for the indicators of “college and career readiness” developed by the California Department of Education.

The rubric was presented at the latest SBE meeting as one of the multiple measures for school performance to be reported in accordance with the Local Control Funding Formula and (most likely) the Every Student Succeeds Act as well.

“I don’t like this model,” one board member, Pat Rucker, said after she apologized for sounding like a petulant child. She then went on to list data collection points that were missing in the CDE proposal before concluding, “There is a fundamental flaw in the fact that it is not balanced in looking at both academic and the diversity of career preparation models in our schools. I have a great concern with that.” Similar criticisms were expressed by others on the board.

Another point of contention was that the measures presented by CDE would be completely irrelevant for elementary and middle schools. “It is one more indicator that is very heavily weighted to high schools,” Sue Burr, another SBE member, said, “and we keep struggling with what we can do … to make sure students are well-prepared as they enter high school.”

CDE staff assured the board that the design was still under construction and additional factors could be included in the future. Given that this project has been continuing for almost three years, the SBE members were relatively gentle with their criticism.

Almost three decades ago, the William T. Grant Foundation issued a report called, “The Forgotten Half: Pathways to Success for America’s Youth and Young Families.” The opening paragraph referred to the approximate portion of high school graduates who do not go on to college, but “build our homes, drive our buses, repair our automobiles, fix our televisions, maintain and serve our offices, schools, and hospitals, and keep the production lines of our mills and factories moving.”

Last year, the William T. Grant Foundation released a booklet that pointed out that access to colleges nationwide had greatly improved. So much so that 86 percent of graduates attend college within eight years of completing their secondary studies. But so what? The booklet cites two studies that showed 30 percent of college students acquired no credits whatsoever, and “many others earn very few credits … often in general education courses, which rarely have job payoffs.”   

These statistics are not mentioned here to imply that more students should continue on to a postsecondary education, as the model presented to the California SBE would seem to suggest. Quite the contrary. The point is that there are now, and quite likely always will be, a large percentage of those completing the K-12 sequence with a set of skills that are distinct from those necessary for postsecondary success. That distinction is fine, because, as the first Casey report stressed, there is a broad swath of essential employment opportunities in our society that are not dependent on advanced education.

As we pointed out in this column two years ago, “Of the 30 jobs expected to demand the most workers by the end of this decade, only seven will necessitate any postsecondary education whatsoever and only four will require a sheepskin.” It simply is not the role of public education to send every graduate merrily packing to a university, nor is there evidence that our young people would be better off even if that was a priority. If educators are concerned with results after graduation and we value employment as much as institutes of higher learning – as we should – we need to find a way to measure preparatory efforts in relation to all possible options.  

The feasibility of assessing college and career preparation is not an issue that the Golden State faces alone. The Every Student Succeeds Act calls for statewide accountability systems to be based on academic assessments; graduation rates; English language proficiency; and one additional factor determining school quality, one of which can be called “postsecondary readiness.” A worthy ideal, we just have to figure out how to do it, and, as of now, California has only shown the country what is insufficient. 

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