College or Career Ready?

A week ago I published a report on the Smarter Balanced training I received, including the implications as I see them for the future use of the assessment. In that post I mentioned a task force that SBAC was convening to investigate how the assessment could be used to show career readiness in students taking the assessment. Bear in mind that this is all intended to assess students at the 11th grade level, and that “college readiness” is explicitly defined by SBAC as a student being prepared to take credit-bearing courses at the college level and is generally defined as a 1550 score on the SAT.

The results of that task force are in.

Using a set of 16 career clusters, the SBAC task force set about identifying “exemplar occupations” for each of four “achievement levels”, complete with a description of the achievement level, implications for grade 12 work (keep in mind this is geared towards students in the 11th grade), and postsecondary education and training required for entry into these particular occupations. The description cell essentially explains how the achievement level relates to the student’s demonstrated grasp of English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics as per “the knowledge and skills described in the Common Core State Standards”. For all intents and purposes, achievement levels 3 and 4 align to the same set of occupations, differentiated only by the implications cell. Students who are, for instance, testing at an achievement level 4 are “exempt from developmental course work”, where students testing at an AL3 are “conditionally exempt…contingent on evidence of sufficient continued learning in Grade 12” (emphasis theirs).

Point of personal privilege: I absolutely L-O-V-E love that “farm and ranch manager” is a career listed at AL3/4 in the Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources cluster. As an Agriscience teacher, it is immensely gratifying to see that the oft-maligned career of farmer is being recognized as increasingly challenging and high-skill.

I continue to feel that this is a very good, yet VERY scary, development in the assessment of students. Clearly one could point to the potential for stratification of careers, or buttonholing students into thinking they are only good enough for one particular type of employment.

Initially, I was excited at the possibility that this might open up some career pathways for the very students who don’t test well, who might be “good with their hands”, who really need guidance and support to find their way. Now that I’m seeing the actual frameworks, I still see an overemphasis on the development of the student to achieve college readiness, which I feel works against the concept of using these frameworks as career readiness guides. While I wouldn’t want to see a student receive a report stating, “Based on your SB scores, you are qualified for careers such as…”, I also don’t want to see certain careers listed next to the words “student needs support to meet college content-readiness standards” when the goal is to get the student into the workforce, NOT into college.

Then there’s the other issue: Where are the counselors who will get to know the students well enough to guide them into appropriate career selection based on these frameworks? In a school of 1300 students, with a test given at the end of the school year, which results aren’t made available for at least two weeks (that’s the SBAC-described minimum turnaround timeframe), when will students be counseled for career pathways, applications for appropriate colleges or vocational programs, etc.? And by whom, when counselors are already spending the months of May through September working on in-school scheduling, as well as all their other duties and requirements?

The frameworks have a strong potential for helping students set goals and guide themselves in their educational careers, both in K-12 and postsecondary educational environments. However, like much about the entire concept of standardized testing, all the answers come too late. There is a plethora of information, data, flowing through the stratosphere, but none of it comes in time to inform the instruction of the student in the classroom. At best, it could be used to help counselors place students in appropriate courses for the year following the test, but the odds are very strongly against that.

One excellent take-away I will share is the website recommended by SBAC for students to explore their interests, My Next Move. I simply loved this website. It was simple to use and easy to navigate, and I felt the list of interests was varied enough to not really give the user the ability to skew the results intentionally. Despite the fact that I didn’t strongly like or dislike more than one of the 60 statements in the interest profiler, and that I answered neutrally to probably more than half, once I went through the interest statements and selected the amount of training I would be interested in receiving, the best match career was spot-on. In fact, the program informed me that my best career would be exactly what I am, a career and technical education teacher at the middle school level. I have no clue how it came about determining that based on what responses I gave, but I was impressed. Users can also search keywords and industries for career suggestions, and they can easily explore the different interest categories generated by the interest profiler.

On the SBAC task force recommendations page there is a link to a survey for reviewers of the frameworks; this survey must be taken by March 28. I already gave my feedback and hope you readers will do the same.


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