Thursday, November 27, 2014

High school turns focus to WorkKeys

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 1/20/2014

A career-readiness assessment program that could unlock a cache of job opportunities for local students is coming to Ottawa High School, possibly as early as next fall.

ACT WorkKeys is a job skills assessment system that helps employers select, hire, train, develop and retain a high-performance workforce, Ryan Cobbs, OHS principal, told school board members at their Jan. 13 meeting.

A career-readiness assessment program that could unlock a cache of job opportunities for local students is coming to Ottawa High School, possibly as early as next fall.

ACT WorkKeys is a job skills assessment system that helps employers select, hire, train, develop and retain a high-performance workforce, Ryan Cobbs, OHS principal, told school board members at their Jan. 13 meeting.

Just as ACT is the benchmark standard for measuring college readiness, Cobbs said, WorkKeys offers the same opportunity for measuring a student’s readiness to enter the workforce. This series of tests measures foundational and soft skills and offers specialized assessments to target institutional needs, he said.

“If we are truly talking about career-readiness, WorkKeys is going to be a benchmark that allows our students to separate themselves from other applicants in the business arena,” Cobbs said.

Successful completion of ACT WorkKeys assessments in Applied Mathematics, Locating Information and Reading for Information can lead to earning ACT’s National Career Readiness Certificate, a portable credential earned by more than 1 million people across the United States, according to Cobbs’ slideshow presentation.

In addition to assessing a student’s foundational skills, WorkKeys measures such soft skills as tolerance, communication, attitude, interpersonal skills and dependability — traits of equal importance to employers, Cobbs said.

“Our job is to make sure kids are college ready, and that we are providing them with every opportunity — so that if they go to post-secondary institutions, they are going to be successful at that level,” Cobbs said. “And if they choose not to do that route, we have to give them the foundational skills that they need, so when they go into the workforce they can be ready. When we talk about college and career readiness, these are exactly what we are talking about with these two [ACT and WorkKeys] assessments. There is not a better career-readiness test, probably in our nation right now [than WorkKeys].”

Cobbs, who gave a presentation on WorkKeys to community leaders before the winter break, told school board members Jan. 13 the goal is to help business owners understand the direction OHS is heading.

Lynda Alderman, school board member, asked Cobbs if students could take both assessment tests.

“Yes, and they will be expected to take both,” Cobbs said.

OHS will use the two assessments to help drive instruction, Cobbs said. Cobbs would like for students to take the WorkKeys assessment at the end of their freshman year or start of their sophomore year — to establish a baseline reading of their skill sets — and then take the assessment again in their senior year, he said. Students will take the ACT their junior year, he said.

“We are going to begin to push our kids to make sure that when they graduate from high school, they will be college or career ready,” Cobbs said. “Some of them will be both. Some will be one or the other.”

Dennis George, school board member, said he thought WorkKeys would not only benefit OHS graduates entering the workforce but also could benefit college-bound graduates who are looking for part-time jobs while they are getting their post-secondary degrees.

Cobbs agreed and said the WorkKeys certificate even could help students who are working at part-time jobs while they are attending high school.

A timetable has not been set for instituting WorkKeys at OHS, but Cobbs said Wednesday he would like to start implementing the program next school year.“We want assessments to drive instruction, so that when we get to their junior and senior years, our kids will have everything in their toolbelt to make sure they can do those assessments,” Cobbs said, “and now we are college and career ready going into the future.”

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