New test evaluates career skills

Posted: Friday, February 26, 2010

Next school year, sixth, eighth and 11th graders will begin evaluations that two state departments hope will help indicate their preparedness for the work force, and for different jobs within it.

Alaska Department of Education and Early Development spokesman Eric Fry said the tests are mandatory, but not high stakes.

"There are no consequences for them (students)," he said. "It's informational for kids and parents. It's tied into a voluntary curriculum that students can take. The idea is that kids would think about occupations they're interested in with the guidance of adults."

The test covers three areas identified by ACT, the international not-for-profit that administers a test of the same name primarily to college-bound students, as those employers seek most. Those three areas are applied math, reading for information and locating information.

Thunder Mountain High School and Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School did pilot runs of the program last school year. Thunder Mountain Principal Patti Bippus said school administrators were pleased with it and used it as a basis for some career discussions with students.

She also said she received some positive feedback about the idea at a recent workforce consortium meeting she attended. "I think it's a good tool we can use," she said.

WIN, or the World Interactive Network, provides lesson plans and the assessment for middle schoolers. It is informal.

The 11th graders will be taking their assessment through something called WorkKeys, which is standardized; it is the same assessment job seekers might take at a Department of Labor job center.

All the Southeast Department of Labor job centers have the learning software and do the assessments, Department of Labor and Workforce Development Employment Security Analyst and statewide coordinator for the Alaska Career Ready Program Kim Kolvig said. There is no charge for job seekers to take the test.

Test takers are scored on a scale of one through seven. They must receive at least a three in all areas to get a certificate. Certificates come in several different categories; different categories can be required for different jobs.

Kolvig said at least one company requires certificates from the assessment for some of its jobs, and several others look at it as a useful indicator of preparedness.

For two state jobs - an accounting clerk and an office assistant in any state department - test certificates can stand in for a GED or a high school diploma, she said.

Juneau School District Curriculum and Assessment Coordinator Phil Loseby said it's possible the test could eventually supplant the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam, though the Web site on the test's implementation in Alaska specifies there are currently no plans for that.

Kolvig also said several other companies are looking at using the assessment. The Department of Labor also recently sent out 18,000 letters letting employers know about the test and "how it can take the guesswork out of hiring," she said.

"We want to make sure first the employers recognize this is coming out," she said. "It cuts back on training and things employers need to do to get these job seekers ready for employment."

Though there may be some overlap with existing school-based tests, the context of some of the questions may be different, Fry said. The overall framework of the test is also different, he said.

In the 11th grade, the assessment "should give them a strong sense of whether they've got the level of introductory skills (employers) might want," Fry said. "Even then, if they're chagrined at their score, they can take more voluntary courses and take the test again... . People are so used to 'assessment' being a synonym for judging people, it's hard for people to recognize an assessment can sincerely be just an effort to inform people, and a way of improving if you want to. It's true you have to take it, but what you do with it is voluntary."

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