The Richmond Register

November 20, 2012

Middle schoolers prepare to be college and career-ready

New certification program ‘raising the bar’

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND —

Madison County middle schools are getting a jump-start on preparing students for life after high school. If they meet a list of criteria, eighth-grade students have the opportunity to earn a College and Career Readiness Certificate upon completion of middle school.

Eligibility for the certificate will be determined in the third quarter of the eighth-grade year. Students must have a 95 percent attendance rate (around 168 out of 177 school days); at least a 3.0 GPA; no suspensions or expulsions; and less than three discipline incidents.

In addition, students must meet three of the four EXPLORE test benchmarks in Reading, English, Mathematics and Science. EXPLORE is administered nationwide and is part of an ACT series of tests.

Students also must write a one-page response describing how they played a role in ensuring their school team, group or club was successful, how they supported their peers and how that experience contributed to the success of the school.

“This certificate will show potential colleges and employers that this student is of high moral character, is dependable based upon attendance and demonstrates an excellent work ethic based upon their grades and EXPLORE scores,” said Steve Evans, Madison Middle School principal.

Students who receive the certificate “have distinguished themselves from their peers and should stand out to future employers as must-have persons in their organization,” Evans said.

A countywide celebration for students who achieve the certification will take place at Madison Southern or Madison Central high schools, alternating each year.  

The idea for this certification came out of a summer meeting between educators and business leaders from all over the county, said Mendi Goble, executive director of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber sent out a survey to members to find out what essential skills are needed to be a good employee. “Soft skills” were most needed, according to the 73 survey responses, Goble said.

“Soft skills” are communication, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem solving and critical thinking and professionalism, as outlined by The U.S. Department of Labor.  

“One major concern is trying to get employees to understand that they are part of an organization, once they’re hired in,” said Ken Bicknell, B.Michael Caudill Middle School principal. “The goal should not only be getting the job, but to help the business thrive.”

At the summer meeting, one Richmond CEO told the principals: “When I ask an employee what their goal is for my company, and they tell me they want to be successful, that's not really what I want to hear. Because success, at that point, is their own agenda. But if they say 'I want to make the company the best company

“We always talk about getting students ready for college,” Bicknell said. However, “in today’s world, it is not enough to have a lot of knowledge ? you have to be able to use it.”

The certification also creates a “standard of excellence” that is consistent at all middle schools in the district, he said.

“We’re hoping it becomes a real carrot, especially for parents. We’re just raising the bar, for what we hope becomes the norm,” Bicknell told the school board when presenting the idea at an October meeting.

Students were informed of the certificate at the beginning of the school year, he said. Although only eighth-graders are eligible, teachers are working to prepare sixth and seventh-grade students for the certification opportunity.

“Our biggest obstacle is the EXPLORE assessment,” Bicknell said. Teachers are preparing students for EXPLORE’s more rigorous questions, which are different than years past, he said, as well as promoting test-taking skills and practices.

The focus on college and career-readiness in high schools was another reason the middle school principals created the certification, Bicknell said.

In Kentucky’s new accountability system, Unbridled Learning, “college and career-readiness” is a major component in middle/high school assessment.

College Readiness is assessed using EPAS (Educational Planning and Assessment System) which consists of three tests: EXPLORE, administered to eighth-graders in September; PLAN given to tenth-graders, also in September; and ACT, taken by 11th-graders in March. These test are administered nationwide.

In middle schools, College Readiness is based on the percentage of students who meet the EXPLORE benchmarks in three academic areas, Reading, English and Mathematics. This component accounts for 18 percent of a middle schools’ overall score.

High schools are held accountable for both college and career-readiness, which makes up 20 percent of a school’s score.

High school students are considered “career ready” by achieving a qualifying score on the ACT, the ASVAB (military assessment test), COMPASS (Computer Adaptive Placement Assessment and Support System), KYOTE (Kentucky On-line Test), the ACT WorkKeys, a job skills assessment system that measures foundational and soft skills, or KOSSA (Kentucky Occupational Skill Standards), an industry-recognized certificate in a vocational field.

Creating a Work Ready Community

The Richmond Chamber wants Madison County to be certified as a Work Ready Community, an initiative by Gov. Steve Beshear, Goble said. To meet this goal, local educators and business people are collaborating to implement “soft skills” at the school level.

Representatives of organizations from all over the state will meet next week to discuss a pilot curriculum that will develop soft skills in all of the county’s high schools.

“We don’t know what that curriculum looks like yet, but that is what the meeting is all about,” Goble said.

Being a Work Ready Community “assures employers that a local workforce has the talent and skills necessary to staff existing jobs and to master the innovative technologies new jobs will require,” according to a release by the state’s Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.

Boyle County received the designation earlier this month.

Counties must meet criteria in six areas including high school graduation rate, National Career Readiness Certificate holders (an ACT test), demonstrated community commitment, educational attainment, soft-skills development and digital literacy.

Madison County will need to work on soft-skill development and the number of National Career Readiness Certificate holders to achieve the designation, Goble said.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com

or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.