- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - About 88 percent of South Carolina’s 11th graders scored high enough on a work-skills test last spring to receive certificates they can take to employers, with many students qualifying for lower-wage work, according to scores released Tuesday by the state’s education agencies.

The scores establish a baseline for comparison in future years. Last spring was the first time all 11th graders took ACT’s WorkKeys, which awards certificates in four levels of proficiency.

“These young people are now armed with information that can help them, their families, and potential employers make decisions about their future,” said Melanie Barton, director of the Education Oversight Committee.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

The certificates can help inform employers of potential hires’ skills, while providing job seekers something tangible to show they’re ready. If post-high-school education is needed, the certificate can complement other credentials, said ACT spokesman Ed Colby.

-A quarter of South Carolina’s 11th grade test-takers earned a bronze certificate. Those students have skills matching 17 percent of jobs in the WorkKeys’ national database, such as hospital housekeeping, packaging, soldering and truck driving, according to examples provided by ACT.

-Forty percent earned silver certificates, qualifying them for 67 percent of jobs. Their additional prospects include being cooks, bookkeepers, administrative assistants, and graphic designers.

-Twenty-two percent earned gold certificates, matching 93 percent of jobs in the database. Their skills allow them to pursue jobs as accountants, database administrators, and aircraft mechanics.

-Less than 1 percent earned a platinum certificate, meaning they’re qualified for 99 percent of the jobs, to include information security analyst.

The percent of jobs matching the certificate level periodically changes, as ACT evaluates job requirements and makes adjustments, Colby said.

Broken down, Fort Mill schools posted the best scores statewide. It was the only district where more than 80 percent of 11th graders earned a silver- or higher-level certificate. On the opposite end, fewer than 21 percent of 11th graders in Allendale County and Estill schools earned at least a silver.

WHY ARE STUDENTS TAKING WORKKEYS?

A law passed in April 2014 abolished the high school exit exam and replaced it with WorkKeys and the ACT college-readiness test.

That ended a three-decade-old requirement that high school students pass a test to graduate. Proponents touted the shift as providing more useful information, whether students seek a job directly after high school or a college education.

Those pushing to toss the High School Assessment Program included business leaders as well as advocates for children with disabilities. They argued the exit exam can be the lone hindrance for students who can otherwise earn the 24 credits needed for a South Carolina diploma.

The law allowed former students who didn’t graduate solely because of the exam to petition their school board to retroactively receive a diploma. So far, the Department of Education has processed 5,505 such diplomas, a spokesman said Tuesday. The petition deadline is Dec. 31.

WHAT DOES IT TEST?

WorkKeys consists of three sections, each 45 minutes long. They test math relevant to the workplace, locating information such as on workplace graphics, and reading to show comprehension.

Students must score high enough on all three to receive a certificate.

South Carolina joins three other states - Alabama, Michigan and Wisconsin - in requiring WorkKeys testing of all public school students in a particular grade.


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