Monday, September 27, 2010

Hancock leads area in college, career readiness

College and career readiness data released for the first time this week show about a third of students in the area are ready for higher learning or a job.

College or career readiness was measured in two ways for the data, which was released by the Kentucky Department of Education on Monday and embargoed until Thursday.

Students were required to score at least 20 in reading, 18 in English and 19 in math on the ACT or possess a state-accredited certification in an area such as welding or computer programming to be deemed college- or career-ready. Each student was only counted once, even if they met the requirements of multiple areas.

Hancock County High School led area high schools with 44 percent of 2010 graduates deemed college- or career-ready.

Following were Daviess County High School with 43 percent, Apollo High School with 38 percent, Muhlenberg County High School with 37 percent, Ohio County High School with 32 percent, Owensboro High School with 31 percent and McLean County with 29 percent.

"This is really exciting baseline data," said Jana Beth Francis, director of assessment, research and curriculum development at Daviess County Public Schools. "It gives you a goal and a target."

Muhlenberg County and Ohio County were the only area high schools with students who achieved career certifications.

At Muhlenberg County, 36 students, or 11.58 percent of the graduating class, were career- ready because of a certification. At Ohio County, 13 students, or 5.39 percent of the graduating class, achieved a certification.

"Part of our merger was getting programs in place that would help the non-college-bound students," said Muhlenberg County Superintendent Dale Todd. "We have emphasized that from the start, and we know some of our new testing that is going to be in place in a couple years is going to be based on career readiness."

Todd said the number of job-certified students is high in his district for several reasons.

Muhlenberg County's school district is responsible for all its own career and technical programs.

There are also collaborative programs with local job providers and students can attain academic credits while achieving one of these certifications, Todd said.

"We strongly believe the electives students take should be centered around their careers," Todd said. "That's a huge focus, rather than having kids take electives just to get a credit."

Deborah Houghland, assistant superintendent at Muhlenberg County, said particular emphasis is put on programs such as nursing, business, mining, computer sciences and engineering.

"Career readiness doesn't rule out the possibility for a student to change his or her mind and attempt a two-year associate's degree or a four-year baccalaureate degree," Houghland said. "It's an attempt to meet the needs of the student and sometimes students change their minds."

Julie Clark, director of middle and secondary schools for DCPS, said some things may change that would make job certifications more accessible for students. Reimbursement programs for students that perform well on the certifications might be possible, she said.

"There's been concern about students being able to cover the cost of the exam," Clark said. "For some of our students, that's a real issue."

Next year, the data for readiness will also include test results from college placement exams such as the Compass Test.

In the meantime, all avenues of qualifying students are being expanded and improved. The new common core standards are lending themselves to this as well, Francis said.

Each school's goal is to increase college- or career-ready students by 50 percent by 2014, according to the report.

"I think it's important to remember that college and career ready are the same things nowadays," Francis said. "One of the things you're going to see is there's more focus now as to what high school should be about. It's clearly stated that high school is about college and career readiness. We look at these goals as doable because we know our curriculum is changing and that change will help us meet these needs."

Dariush Shafa, 691-7302 dshafa@messenger-inquirer.com