State panel grapples with defining ‘college and career ready’

April 16, 2014

A state committee is working to incorporate measures of how well schools prepare graduates for college and careers into the Academic Performance Index. Credit:

Preparing students for colleges and careers shouldn’t be an “either-or” proposition and schools should be held accountable for how well they prepare students for both paths, an advocate for career education urged in testimony before a state committee this week.

“The state is building up the scaffolding” for a dramatically different focus on college and career readiness than ever before, Christopher Cabaldon, executive director of the Sacramento-based Linked Learning Alliance, told a state committee trying to define what it means for students to be “college and career ready.”

One of the challenges, Cabaldon said, is not to lose sight of the importance of “career” in the equation, and to encourage schools to build programs that combine rigorous academics with real-world work skills for students.

Cabaldon was speaking Tuesday to the Public Schools Accountability Act Advisory Committee. The committee is working on incorporating measures of career and college readiness into the Academic Performance Index, the primary measure of school effectiveness. The API has historically been based on scores on standardized tests, but a 2012 state law requires that 40 percent of a school’s API score include measures of career and college readiness – an amorphous and poorly defined term that the committee is struggling to quantify.

Cabaldon urged the committee to develop a formula that would integrate college and career paths – career technical education programs that also meet the requirements of college preparatory coursework, for example – among the areas schools will be rated on.

The Linked Learning Alliance advocates for programs that integrate academics with career experience, putting students into internships or other job programs as part of their high school course work. Research has shown that students in the programs graduate at higher rates, take more college-preparatory courses and report higher levels of engagement in school than their peers in traditional programs.

The students also develop a bevy of so-called “soft skills,” such as communication skills, teamwork and problem solving, that employers say are lacking in young employees just entering the work force.

Strong academic programs should contain elements of both college preparation and career training because each include key skills students need to succeed beyond high school – whether they go on to college or enter the work force, Cabaldon said. The state should consider that when developing methods to measure how well schools are preparing students for colleges and careers.

Cabaldon’s comments got to the heart of a key challenge facing the committee – defining and measuring career readiness. The concept is less concrete than college readiness, which can be measured by the courses students take and whether students ultimately enrolled in college. Earlier this month, the State Board of Education voted to suspend the API until 2015-16 to allow more time to incorporate the new measures as well as new tests students are taking aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

“The (reconstituted) API, when it first comes out, is not going to be a perfect vehicle,” said committee co-chair Kenn Young, superintendent of the Riverside County Office of Education. He said the measurements would likely be refined as more information is gathered on what it means for students to be considered ready for the work force.

In grappling with what it should demand of schools to measure how well they are preparing students for college and careers, the committee on Tuesday also heard from a nationally renown researcher on the topic, who the committee has contracted to help guide their work.

David Conley, a University of Oregon professor who founded the Educational Policy Improvement Center research firm, presented the committee with research papers on the effectiveness of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, as well as scores on the SAT and ACT tests, as measures of college readiness. Each of the items are indicators of success in college, he said, yet their effectiveness as measures to include in the API should be weighed against issues of equity – not all students have access to the same coursework, for instance – and other factors.

Conley urged the committee the settle on a few key criteria it sees as crucial to help guide the process, which committee members said they will consider in more detail at their June meeting.

“This is going to be an evolutionary journey you’re on and not simply creating a product,” Conley said.

Michelle Maitre covers college and career readiness. Contact her and follow her on Twitter @michelle_maitre. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.

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