Unready graduates

In most states, passing the graduation exam doesn’t guarantee students are ready for college or the workplace, concludes a Center on Education Policy report. Sixty-five percent of American students must pass an exam to receive a high school diploma. By 2012, 76 percent of students will face an exit exam in 26 states.

(Of 23 states surveyed), only six say that the purpose of the test is to measure the knowledge and skills needed for college-readiness, while nine indicate work-readiness as a purpose.

In contrast, 18 states say that the tests — which are generally aligned to the 10th-grade level — are intended to determine mastery of the state curriculum (e.g. standards, curriculum framework). And 18 states say that the exams are used to provide data to state policymakers on student progress toward state education goals to inform policy decisions.

I know of no state that asks high school graduates to demonstrate mastery of 11th- or 12th-grade skills. In most, the hardest questions reflect what’s supposed to be taught in ninth and 10th grade.

I don’t think college readiness should be the minimum standard for high school graduation, if that’s defined as something more than “has a pulse.” However, you’d think that work readiness would a reasonable expectation.

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  1. Work readiness means different things in different places, so it’s hard to assess, or even define. If your main industry is lobster trapping, you need a different skill set than if your main industry is computer design or operating a ski resort.

    Besides, companies have made all kinds of changes to make entry-level jobs accessible to the uneducated: cashiers no longer have to be able to do arithmetic, and often not even read: they just push the button on the register with the picture of the french fries. If the customer gives them a $20 bill, they push the $20 button and the register calculates the change.

    What constitutes “work ready” in such a context is the ability to show up reliably for work, sober, and not be overtly nasty to the customers. Hard to know how to test for that in high school.

  2. Wahoofive, my high school tested for that every day – we were expected to be on time, clean, paying attention, and polite to the teachers. If the students make it impossible for a school to enforce such rules, school isn’t the institution they belong in.

    Secondly, while it might be possible for the illiterate and innumerate to operate a McDonald’s cash register, that’s a job for a kid who doesn’t yet have to support himself or herself, let alone a family. There are very few opportunities left for the illiterate to make a living. Most of the pure muscle jobs are gone. Manufacturing jobs that involved just sticking the part in the hole, and repeat for 40 hours a week, are nearly all automated now – except where changeovers are so frequent that it’s better to hire a human being who can read the instructions and change to a new job several times a day, and that’s only worth a dollar or two over minimum wage. There are better-paid jobs servicing the robots going begging, but you’ve got to know how to read the manual, and probably also be able to learn how to program it for a new part – which may involve mathematics as well as literacy.