Rep. Tom Miles of Forest is on to something. With regard to tests required for high school graduation, he wants to move from an education bureaucracy based approach to a market based approach.
A little background.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act was replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Both have required public schools to implement intensive testing from the early grades through high school to track student progress. At the high school level, ESSA requires states to administer end-of-course exams in reading/language arts, mathematics, and science.
It’s up to the various states to decide if passing these tests is required to earn a high school diploma. Mississippi added a history exam and made passing the tests a requirement for graduation. After lots of complaints, in 2015, the Mississippi State Board of Education began allowing students who fail the subject matter tests to take the relevant sections of the ACT as an alternative.
Miles wants to abandon the state developed subject matter tests and go strictly with the ACT.
Such a move would begin to align high school testing with actual market opportunities for graduating students, i.e., going to college or getting a job. The ACT is the ticket to college admission as well as to financial aid.
Christine Davidson, a teacher and mother of a college bound student, explained to the Clarion-Ledger, “No college is saying here’s $1,500 for what you’ve earned (on a state test). No college is saying, ‘here’s $2,000 for your advanced score.’ But a difference of two points on the ACT can amount to $2,000 more.”
Missing from Miles’ approach is the equivalent ticket to getting a job, since not all high school graduates go to college.
More and more industries and college technical training programs require employees to take the national WorkKeys test which assesses a person’s readiness for employment in different types of jobs. In response to this demand, more and more communities are moving to become “work ready” communities.
For example, the Daily Journal reported Axiall, Tronox, Kemira, NauticStar, True Temper, Mueller, Yokohama, and Toyota in its region use WorkKeys to find potential employees. East Mississippi Community College now requires a Silver Level WorkKeys score for admission into its manufacturing technology programs.
“Work ready” communities provide WorkKeys to high school students. Twenty Mississippi counties are now certified Work Ready communities. Another 19 are in process, with more signing up every day.
“Part of our sector strategy plan is to give WorkKeys to seniors in all 89 high schools in the 27 counties composing the Mississippi Partnership Workforce Development Area,” said Bill Renick WIOA Division Director.
Regrettably, the market rejects many Mississippi high school graduates. Too many are not prepared for university, community college, or middle skill jobs. We need far more 21 and up ACT scores and Silver Level and higher WorkKeys scores if our students are to succeed and gin up our economy.
Replacing current subject matter tests with the ACT and WorkKeys tests, not adding them on, would give high schools time and resources to remediate low scoring children. Letting students, along with teachers and family members, know where they stand well before graduation is only fair and would help them with career planning.
Moving to market based testing in high schools makes too much sense for the Legislature to ignore Miles’ bill.
» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.
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