The definition of career readiness has long been one element of the larger conversation about defining student success. This conversation is underway nationally, and it both directly and indirectly affects all our students and the work we must do to ensure their success.
Many faculty already know about the national establishment of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) now adopted by the California Department of Education (CDE) for K12 in the areas of mathematics and English language arts. The word “standard” in this instance, really means defined content, in some cases at the level of instructional materials and delivery methods. In addition, adoption does not mean universal implementation will happen overnight or use of these materials will be mandatory in all cases. The goal is to create a useful framework of options that expands instructional capacity while improving accountability for that instruction.
Some factors affecting this implementation will raise the stakes in ways that many would agree are positive. But the changes could also trap students who are too far along in their current path, which currently has lower expectations, to be able to meet new higher standards without remediation. This remediation will not happen in the K12 system because these students will soon be adults. So implementation has to start at lower levels and loosely follow a generation, which will take years.
Another facet is authentication of learning, which calls for assessment. The new CCSS implementation not only recognizes that students are over-assessed, or assessed redundantly, but also that the various assessments are both assessing at different levels of rigor and involve remarkably different stakes. For example, EAP (Early Assessment Program) seeks to indicate to the student that he or she is or is not college ready, whereas the California High School Exit Exam bars students’ graduation even though it measures at a different level. Long before a student is informed that they are not “college ready” they are likely to have received the message that they are unequivocally ready to graduate high school based on standards that are not even close to what a student should have achieved prior to leaving high school. In addition, a variety of unintended consequences result from many of these assessments, such as students taking their final one to two years of high school less seriously because they have passed their assessments early.
Consequently, a big part of the CCSS effort will be to improve the assessment arena. Like any form of change, the new assessments will meet with mixed reviews and will raise many issues to be resolved. For the common core elements, much of this work has been done at the K12 level. However, the CCC Chancellor’s Office has recently convened a task force to begin looking at what the new standards and assessments mean for us in terms of our students transitioning to us from the K12 segment.
This effort also recognizes that some high school students might not go on to college and that this focus on common core elements does necessarily prepare those students for success upon graduation. Therefore, the organizers added the term “career” to their academic and assessment vernacular, resulting in the phrase “College and Career Readiness.” The career readiness standards are yet to be defined, at least to the degree that the common core college readiness standards already are. In addition, the CDE has a very robust and recently updated set of CTE content standards that stem from a long history predating the SCANS (Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills) standards of the 80s and 90s. One immediate question is whether a relationship between career readiness definitions and these CTE content standards should be established.
One might also question whether college readiness and career readiness involve a different set of definitions. The true issue in regard to either a career or a college focus is providing pathways for students. An emphasis on selecting a pathway early may result in limiting student opportunities. If we define career and college readiness separately will this further limit their options or expand them? In any case, we must focus on pathway efficiency and reject the notion that a diploma, certificate, or degree exclusively means specialization. No matter their specific field of study, the long-term success of our students depends entirely on their ability to think critically and be active engaged learners.
Career readiness includes many of the same components found in college readiness. Decades of research like the SCANS project build the case that what it takes to be effective as a learner and an effective employer/employee significantly overlap. But, does career readiness include more than college readiness? Does the definition of career readiness change as students progress through each level, or workers become more proficient through direct experience?
If we truly are able to increase pathway efficiency and thus take advantage of prior learning and experience, then a graduate, with diploma or credential in hand, should be prepared to move into a variety of pathways. Is it logical then to define career readiness as the ability to move into a variety of options, at each level? And, if we go this route, is it logical to define college and career readiness differently at the high school graduation level since the amount of prior learning and experience is still at the foundational level?
A key element of pathway efficiency is the ability to transfer skills and abilities across many applications. Critical thinkers who can make these kinds of content shifts will be more likely to have success across a variety of careers.. Therefore, pathway design must be coordinated in ways that maximize the opportunity for prior learning to benefit a wide variety of future options. While our students will still specialize in a particular major, when they move on to something new they should not have to start completely over if their education was built upon a series of coordinated building blocks that cross prepare them.
The work going on right now within CDE to develop programs of study, within Statewide Career Pathways (SCP) to maximize articulation, and within C-ID to develop model curricula are such a framework. If we are smart, and can muster the State’s will power, we can create a definition-based framework that achieves the desired efficiencies. Defining career readiness should be about defining pathways in ways that expand rather than limit life options for our students.