College-placement tests can make or break a student’s career. Yet few students prepare for them, and there’s little evidence to suggest the tests even do what they’re designed to do.
Now, some community colleges are looking for alternatives. Some are switching to high school grades or revamping assessments, while others are working with high schools to figure out students’ college readiness early so they have time to catch up if necessary.
“Our concern is that placement tests are really used to keep students out of credit-bearing courses, and they really are not reliable enough to make those decisions,” said Stan Jones, the president of Complete College America, a Washington-based nonprofit organization. Despite those concerns, he said, colleges use the tests because “they are inexpensive. They don’t take long, and there is a common belief that the tests will provide better information than they do.”
What skills are necessary for a young person to be considered “career ready?” And are those the same skills necessary to do well in college? That’s been one of the most debated questions in education policy in the last few years, and yet the answer still depends on who you’re asking.
In the hope of guiding education policy, more than two dozen business and education groups have come together as the Career Readiness Partner Council to try to forge a shared definition of what it means to be ready for good jobs.
The four-page statement attempts to fuse various ways of conceptualizing career readiness, from acquiring skills specific to a given sector or entry-level job to mastering broader workplace skills.
On the academic side, it says that career-ready students need to be proficient in core academic subjects, as well as in technical skills associated with specific career fields or pathways. It outlines a range of overarching skills and dispositions, too, such as strong communications skills, the ability to work in teams and independently, and effective use of technology. And it says that the knowledge, skills, and dispositions “vary from one career to another and change over time” as a person develops.
Prevailing education rhetoric embraces these things in its “college and career readiness” dialogue, the group says, but hasn’t emphasized another key element: “engaging workplace experiences” such as internships or service learning that allow students to apply these skills alongside experienced professionals.