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Schools move toward focus on careers
Legislation would help students prepare for college, military or workforce
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College and Career Ready Performance Index

A new index would score Georgia schools on the following criteria.

Elementary school
Required

  • Students meeting or exceeding areas on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test
  • Students meeting or exceeding the Georgia Five Writing Assessment
  • Third-graders receiving a Lexile measure greater than 650
  • Fifth-graders achieving a Lexile measure greater than 850
  • Attendance rate
  • English Language Learners demonstrating proficiency
  • Students with disabilities served in regular classrooms more than 80 percent of the school day
  • Fifth-graders completing 10 career awareness modules
  • Fifth-graders with a career portfolio in GaCollege411

Additional points

  • Students enrolled in world language courses
  • Students enrolled in fine arts courses
  • Students with Fitnessgram assessments
  • Fifth-graders exceeding state standards in science, math and reading

Possible additions

  • School's average score on the Georgia Teacher Effectiveness Measurement and Leader Effectiveness Measurement
  • Students advancing to above grade level subject or whole grade acceleration

Middle school
Required

  • Students meeting or exceeding areas on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test
  • Students meeting or exceeding the Grade Eight Writing Assessment
  • Eighth-graders achiev-ing a Lexile measure greater than 1050
  • Attendance rate
  • English Language Learners demonstrating proficiency
  • Students with disabilities served in regular classrooms more than 80 percent of the school day
  • Eighth-graders passing at least four courses in content areas
  • Eighth-graders completing Individual Graduation Plans in GaCollege411
  • Students completing three or more career interest inventories in GaCollege 411

Additional points

  • Students completing three years in the fine arts, one world language and/or career exploratories
  • Eighth-graders scoring proficient or advanced on the 21st Century Skills Technology Assessment
  • Sixth- and seventh-graders with Fitnessgram assessments
  • Eighth-graders exceeding state standards in science, math and social studies
  • Eighth-graders earning at least one high school credit

Possible additions

  • School's average score on the GTEM and LEM
  • Students who advance to above grade level subject or whole grade acceleration

High school
Required

  • Graduation rate
  • Attendance rate
  • Students completing three or more pathway courses
  • Students completing a Career Technical and Agricultural Education pathway and earning an industry-recognized credential
  • Students entering college or technical school without needing remediation courses
  • Students earning high school credit for accelerated enrollment
  • Students earning two high school credits in the same world language
  • Students receiving scores of 3 or higher on Advanced Placement exams, or scores of 4 or higher on International Baccalaureate exams
  • Students scoring 22 or higher on the ACT, or 1550 or higher on the SAT
  • Students exceeding on the Georgia High School Writing Test
  • Students meeting or exceeding state standards on End of Course Tests

Additional points

  • Students completing three credits in the same world language
  • Students taking the SAT or ACT
  • Students earning credit for a physics course
  • Ninth-graders earning four credits in four core content areas
  • Students qualifying for the Zell Miller Scholarship

Possible additions

  • Students scoring at a proficient level on a soft skills assessment
  • Students scoring 35 or higher on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery
  • Students scoring "college ready" on the COMPASS examination
  • School's average score on the GTEM and LEM
  • Students participating in the PLAN examination
  • Students completing work-based learning or a senior project
  • School earned a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math certification

 

It's been 10 years since the No Child Left Behind Act went into effect.

Georgia officials, however, are ready for a change. Their solution? A performance index, basically a report card for schools, that focuses on how prepared students are for the "real world" rather than for standardized tests.

"(The index) moves us in the right direction for 21st century accountability," Gov. Nathan Deal said in a news release from the Georgia Department of Education. "Rather than focusing on one test given on one school day, (the index) takes a comprehensive look at the things that go into making successful elementary, middle and high schools."

Georgia's proposed College and Career Ready Performance Index will measure the extent to which a school is making progress on a list of specific criteria, according to a letter Georgia Department of Education officials sent Sept. 20 to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

No Child Left Behind was designed to ensure all children, especially ethnic and economic minorities, received quality education. Schools were evaluated annually with an Adequate Yearly Progress model that looked at attendance, graduation rates and standardized test scores.

The index, however, is like a report card for schools. But instead of math, English and science, schools are graded on an assortment of criteria.

The new index adds career and college preparation to that list and focuses less heavily on standardized test scores.

The index comes on the heels of two different pieces of legislation, House Bills 400 and 186. HB 400, which started during the 2010 school year, implemented career exploration for middle school students that will be carried on to high school. HB 186 focuses on taking the career exploration a step further and helping high school students become ready for college, the military or the workforce.

Aspects from each bill affect how all schools are evaluated on the new index.

"Probably the main thing would be, as far as the bills go, to just take a look at elementary, middle and high school and decide what are some additional things we can do to enhance what we're already doing," said Rhonda Samples, Career, Technology and Agricultural Education director for Hall County Schools.

Jamey Moore, director of curriculum and instruction for Gainesville City Schools, said he's a fan of the new index.

"The majority of the items on it are things we're already tracking, already longitudinally aware of, and not a big change as far as our awareness of what's going on in schools," Moore said. "What it does do is change what we get measured on. It's more of a balanced assessment approach. In the past, they just looked at the achievement data. They've broadened from the achievement data to multiple other items that sort of give the bigger picture of how we're doing."

Whatever happens this year at schools will set the baseline data for the following school year.

"I hope as they choose their components that they are thinking about the impact that each component will have because every piece of this impact every other piece of what we're doing," Moore said.

Changing focus
The first component is the BRIDGE Act — Building Resourceful Individuals to Develop Georgia's Economy. Georgia House Bill 400, the BRIDGE Act for middle schoolers, was implemented last year, but full compliance is not required until 2013.

"The bottom line was to infuse career plans and career and college readiness in the hopes of students having some sort of structured plan in grade six to help improve Georgia's graduation rates," said Markita Grant, manager of the marketing and training division of the Georgia Career Information Center.

Students in grades six through eight are to be counseled on career awareness and interest inventories, and by the end of eighth grade, are expected to have a fully developed individual graduation plan.

"Kids can change," Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said. "But this at least gives them the idea of planning a track and if they can change, then what can they change to."

The BRIDGE Act also extends into high school.

Students are expected to assess their graduation plans and continue to find appropriate classes if their career interests change.

The graduation plans focus coursework in math, science, humanities, fine arts, foreign language and career pathways. They're designed to align students' career plans and academic curriculum and include college or technical school options, as well as internships and job opportunities.

High school seniors must establish a "next step" and declare whether they are going to college, into the military, pursuing an apprenticeship or going directly into the workforce. If a student changes his mind, however, his high school is not penalized for him not sticking to his graduation plan.

"Let's say someone gets into a car accident and they wanted to be a professional athlete. Now they can't because they don't have the leg strength.

Who's fault is that? It's not the schools'," Grant said. "There's other powers at play. ... There's no way there can be ramifications back to the high school."

The first year of the bill required 80 percent of students to meet certain benchmarks. This year, 90 percent of students must meet those requirements, and by the 2012 school year, 100 percent of students must be in compliance.

The benchmarks are not classes, though, they're more or less student work - exploring and reporting on careers, for example. The benchmarks are recorded on an advisement checklist for the school.

"(School officials are) very excited. They're happy to have some type of structure to infuse college and career readiness," Grant said. "They're somewhat trying to get their bearings straight."

Dyer and Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield don't anticipate elementary and middle schools changing much, despite the BRIDGE Act implementation.

"Students will start to do very intentional things at the middle school level regarding exploring careers and what they might want to be interested in when they get out of high school," Schofield said. "That fits right into what we do because we already do that at the middle school. We think upper elementary is where students ought to explore what people do for a living."

Gainesville schools are offering career exploration at younger ages. Local officials are even looking at doing career modules for elementary school students, even though it's not specifically part of the bill.

"When I heard that elementary school is going to have career modules put in, I kind of just rolled my eyes at first," Dyer said.

Then she had lunch with a group of fifth-grade students at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School.

"I asked them, ‘How many of you had someone talk to you about what you want to be when you finish high school?' Only one of them raised their hands, and they said the Boys & Girls Clubs had talked to them," Dyer said. "They had not even thought about it and hadn't had someone talk about it. I became a little more understanding of the career modules."

Choosing a major
The significant changes from these two bills come in making high school a bit more like college, both in focus and in teaching methodology.

"High school students and parents must understand that they have options for career pathway programs of study that join a college-ready academic core with quality career, technical and agricultural education studies that result in a high school diploma and preparation for success in advanced training, an associate's degree, a baccalaureate degree and a career," HB 186 states.

"Georgia's public education system must incorporate many different types of assessments and certificates into their programs so that a student's skill level is assessed and that it also has meaning to them for postsecondary and career success."

The traditional Georgia high school curriculum requires students to get a certain number of credits in math, science, social studies and English. Additional class periods not filled by those courses are used for electives such as art, band or a CTAE class.

HB 186 intends to change that and have students get credit for both academic and career courses at once by, for example, infusing career standards into English classes and reading standards into a health care class.

"I want them to start creating courses within those career pathways that bring in the science, that bring in the mathematics and allow children to show their proficiency in mathematics in courses taken in career pathways," Schofield said. "I hope we see agricultural science classes develop and children take them and get a science credit and career credit."

Students can get credit from course completion, testing out of classes or demonstrating proficiency in an area through tests or getting an industry certification.

Students also will have increased opportunity to get dual credit from enrolling in college courses and high school courses.

"The fact that our kids at two of our campuses can walk across a pasture and be at Lanier Technical College is pretty darn cool," Schofield said. "And gosh, we need to take advantage of that more."

The technical colleges know industry needs, Dyer said.

"They know the industries are coning to them and saying we need X amount of people for ZF industries and X amount for Shaw Technologies," she said.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for us to lead people into jobs, and we want to do that."

Schofield said he is a big proponent of the move-on-when-ready concept included in HB 186.

"If a student can come into class on the first day and score a 90 percent on an (End of Course) biology test, why are we making that child sit in a biology class 150 hours before we give them credit?" Schofield said. "We have talked about moving that into the elementary level. Not moving kindergartners into the fourth-grade but being able to assess on a regular basis and be able to move them into deeper and richer content whenever they're ready."

The main controversy with HB 186 is exactly what a CTAE class is and why all students have to take them.

"The CTAE courses, which until now have now been electives, are now going to have two or three be required," Dyer said. "There's going to be some people where if we say we're going to be career ready, they'll say we're dumbing down the academics to be vocational, but it's really not that at all. The Carnegie units for college and career pathways become of equal importance. There will likely be a new diploma for next year."

Dyer said Gainesville Board of Education members want Gainesville High School to be a balance of academic, career and fine arts classes, and not a career academy. She said they are not looking at that option.

"This isn't our parents' and our grandparents' vocational school where you can go out and lay bricks and learn how to wire the garage," Schofield said. "This is high-tech, 21st century careers."

The End of Course Tests will be used in place of the Georgia High School Graduation Test to determine high schools' index scores.

"The (graduation test) wasn't much of a measure of anything in terms of you passing those five areas having anything to do with real life. So the move to EOCTs was a positive move, but again, it's limited," Schofield said.

What could help alleviate this limitation is the provision in HB 186 calling for a soft skills, work ready assessment. Soft skills are things like professional dress, punctuality and politeness.

"Employers tell us over and over again, ‘We can train the specific skills but when you send us young adults who can't show up, who aren't honest, who don't believe in a day's work for a day's pay, you're not giving us much to work with,'" Schofield said. "Soft skills I think are paramount."

 

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