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ACT offering certification of proof for specific skill test

Published: Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 10:40 p.m. CST
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(Christina Chapman-Van Yperen-cchapman@shawmedia.com)
Cassidy Roberts, junior at Morris Community High School, studies during her study hall Thursday.

A new certification offered through ACT is equipping students with proof of specific skill sets for employers – but it could be moot before it goes statewide if Illinois’ assessments change.

The ACT National Career Readiness Certification was piloted during the 2012-13 school year’s Prairie State Achievement Examination testing, and Morris Community High School District 101 and Coal City Community Unit School District 1 took advantage of the opportunity.

“It offers another layer of ability level to show the well-rounded nature of a student,” said Principal Kelly Hussey of Morris High School. “It’s been sought after by corporate America as a way for them to know more than just school work and grades. This demonstrates a level of actual skills that have become important to them in their entire hiring process and to look for more success in applicants.”

The NCRC is “an industry-recognized, portable, evidence-based credential that certifies essential skills needed for workplace success,” according to act.org.

Students can earn different levels of certification through the WorkKeys portion of the state testing, which is during the second day of testing featuring the ACT. The WorkKeys assesses applied mathematics, locating information and reading for information. It measures “real world” skills employers feel are critical to job success such as problem solving, critical thinking and applying information from workplace documents to solve problems.

“It’s a lot of logical thinking and reasoning,” Coal City High School Principal Mitch Hamann said.

Students are certified on different levels from platinum to bronze. Five students at Morris High School received the highest certification, platinum, as did two students at Coal City. That means they have the necessary skills for 99 percent of the 16,000 jobs in the WorkKeys database.

That’s 2 percent of Morris seniors who achieved the platinum level, while 1 percent of students nationwide received that certificate, according to a news release from the school. Twenty-eight percent of its students received a gold certificate, compared to 19 percent nationally. At the silver level, 14 percent of Morris students reached this and 21 percent of students nationally did. Lastly, 10 percent of its students scored at the bronze level compared to 12 percent nationwide.

In addition to Coal City’s two students who reached the platinum level, 42 of its students reached the gold level, Hamann said, as well as 72 students at the silver certification and 36 the bronze.

“Outside of the state of Illinois these certificates are extremely important and have been for the last decade,” said Tammy Elledge, director of Curriculum and Assessment for Coal City.

These certifications are used by business and industry around the nation for pre-employee screenings, said Lance Copes, director of the Grundy Area Vocational Center. The use of the NCRC is just starting to grow in popularity in Illinois’ industry.

The Elgin business community is already exploring its use to connect students with local business, and in Joliet, Stepan chemical company utilizes the certifications in its application process, Copes said.

Hussey added the auto industry is pushing the use of the certification.

“Organizations are crafting job titles and levels of ability off it,” he said.

For all its benefits, school officials would hate to see it go, but depending on how the state moves forward with the development of its new assessment system, offering NCRC could no longer be an easy option for high schools, Morris Superintendent Pat Halloran said.

The state is in the process of developing the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, to align with the Common Core Standards. This could replace the No Child Left Behind Act and adequate yearly progress assessments.

PARCC is developing a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math, anchored in what it takes to be ready for college and careers, according to parcconline.org.

Whether the ACT will be a part of the assessment system has yet to be determined. If the ACT is no longer a state requirement, schools may not be able to take on the additional costs to make the ACT mandatory for all juniors as it is now, Halloran said. Without it being mandatory, not all students would have the opportunity to take part in the certifications.

The state is still working on the assessment system and has not released all the details to school districts yet.

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