03/12/09 — Tests measuring workers' skill sets

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Tests measuring workers' skill sets

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 12, 2009 1:46 PM

The Career Readiness Certificates testing program is more than just another test for students, it is a way to measure real-world work skills needed to acquire and to be successful in a job, said Diane Ivey, Wayne County Occupational Readiness Keys for Success coordinator.

The program has been active in the county for less than two years but already Wayne County leads the state with 2,428 certificates awarded.

Statewide 24,000 certificates have been issued since the program started several years ago.

The program tests in three areas: Reading for information, locating information and applied mathematics.

The math test does not have columns of figures to add or equations to solve.

"They are word problems," she said. "They get formula sheets and use a calculator just like in work if they need to figure something out. Reading is company policies, memos. It's provisions you would be asked to read and apply in the workplace."

A sample math question reads: Over the last five days, you made the following number of sales calls: 8, 7, 9, 5 and 7. On the average, how many calls did you make each day? -- A. 5.8, B.7.0, C.7.2, D.9.0, E. 36.0. (The answer is 7.2.)

A gold National Career Readiness Certificate is awarded to those who demonstrate the potential to acquire the skills for 85 percent of the more than 12,000 jobs in the WorkKeys database. A silver certificate is awarded those who meet the skills needed for 65 percent of the jobs. Those meeting 35 percent receive a bronze certificate.

To date, Wayne County has awarded 569 bronze, 1,447 silver and 412 gold certificates.

Rowan County is a close second behind Wayne with 2,082, including 411 bronze, 1,185 silver and 486 gold. Mrs. Ivey noted that Rowan County had been able to utilize grant funding to promote the program.

Other top counties are Randolph, 1,717; Guilford, 1,617; Robeson, 801; Pitt, 756; Richmond, 735; Gaston, 682; and Iredell, 670.

Duplin County has awarded 41.

The testing is based on WorkKeys assessments that were developed by ACT, the company best known for its college entrance exam.

A pattern emerged as ACT began to collect data on jobs that it profiled, she said.

"That pattern was that 85 percent of the jobs they had profiled in the United States required proficiency in reading for information, locating information and applied math," she said. "So realizing those three are like the foundation for employment for someone who is going to be successful in the workplace they created the CRC."

Ms. Ivey said many students would go to college, but that in tough economic times that does not always work out for them right away.

"So, we are giving them a way to show they do have some good skills when they leave high school," she said. "It gives them an idea of why those skills are relevant today. That is just as important as anything."

The county's first approach was to offer testing to public schools. The proposal, she said, received strong support from schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor.

It is now offered to the public as well.

Southern Wayne High School at Dudley and Spring Creek High School at Seven Springs and the Early Middle College at WCC volunteered for a pilot program in 2007-08.

Only seniors were tested.

Juniors and seniors in all seven high schools were tested last year.

This year juniors will be tested as well as seniors who did not take the tests last year or who want to improve their scores.

"The early question was why we want to test our students, they get tested so much," she said. "My answer to that was that all those other tests are for the schools because the schools have to reach certain benchmarks. This test is for the students. It gives them a credential that is a complement to their high school diploma that they can take with them when they are out in the work force."

The certificate is good for five years.

Currently, the testing is free thanks to a $43,000 grant from North Carolina's Eastern Region. Once the funding runs out the cost will be $30 for all three tests.

A testing schedule is available on the WCC Web site www.waynecc.edu.