windowclearnerAny good business person knows the importance of risk management. A lot of risk management involves shifting liability, for high risk things that must be done, to someone else. A simplistic example is skyscraper window cleaning. The windows must be cleaned, but as building management you don’t want to put your regular cleaning crew out there. Too much risk and not enough training. So naturally you outsource that kind of job to a company that specializes in taking on the risk of hanging off buildings multiple stories in the air to clean windows. Their people are typically faster, specifically trained in the task, do a better job and are highly insured for injury. Businesses look for opportunities to shift that liability where ever they can, including in the human resources department. And lucky for businesses there is someone out there to take on the risk of new hires.

Check out the state Certified Work Ready Communities (CWRC) initiative powered by the ACT® National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC TM). The initiative was launched in December 2011.  Missouri, Oregon and South Carolina were in the first round of participating states. Participants are “leveraging the NCRC to measure and close the skills gap — and building common frameworks that link, align and match their workforce development efforts.”

ACT knows that “making a bad hire can be incredibly expensive, costing you training time and expense, not to mention lost productivity.” They are ready to step in and take on that risk with their special certification program. ACT does this by offering “a suite of assessments and certifications that measure an individual’s foundational workplace skills such as math, reading and locating – skills required for a majority of today’s jobs.”

Makes sense. We all know ACT’s prowess at assessments with its college entrance exams. Those exams, interestingly started out in 1959 as a competitor to the SAT reasoning test and differentiated themselves by focusing on practical knowledge rather than cognitive reasoning. Unfortunately it seems that over time, they succumbed to their competition and shifted the exam more towards problem solving and critical thinking skills. The science portion was renamed the Science Reasoning test and most recently constructed response questions have been added.

The ACT college entrance exam has been growing in popularity and recently passed the SAT in raw numbers of students taking the exam, over a million and a half in 2011. It is used as one factor by college admissions offices to screen candidates and shift the risk of taking in a student who isn’t really ready for college level work. Unprepared students can lower a college’s graduation statistics and raise its remediation rates, two things no one wants on their record. ACT promotes itself as being able to screen for that risk.

Now the ACT is ready to take on that risk of training expense and low productivity for new hires. According to their site, if you are a company who is signed on to their program:

All you need to do is:

  • Recognize the NCRC when applicants present one
  • Recommend the NCRC for applicants and/or existing employees
  • Require the NCRC, if your company has completed a job profile (job profiling is a job analysis system that identifies the exact skill levels required for success in a given position)

See? Businesses no longer have to risk taking in an unknown commodity of human capital. The ACT can take all the risk out of hiring a new employee by empowering them with this certificate that proves they are good.

So all this common core stuff we are doing, this national testing of kids to make them all college and career ready, and ACT gets to swoop in and deny them an interview unless they have passed through their gate and obtained an NCRC?!  I’m all for having a local leadership  (local government, economic development, community/technical college, K-12 system, and business/industry) work together to do determine what the local community wants from the education system to meet the needs of local business, but when you start a private club where only club certificate holders can get access to jobs, and ACT gets to set the terms of gaining that certificate, I have a real problem.

ACT is already a gatekeeper for college. You want in or access to scholarships, you have to score a certain number on their test. Using their own sponsored studies they have been working hard to convince colleges to use their gate. They don’t have universal acceptance and they see their influence waning as a result of a recent independent study by William Hill.

Following 123,000 students over 8 years, Hill’s study  showed that “there was virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test ‘submitters’ [those who took the ACT/SAT and submitted their scores] and ‘nonsubmitters.’ Just 0.05 percent of a GPA point [final college GPA] separated the students who submitted their scores to admissions offices and those who did not. And college graduation rates for ‘nonsubmitters’ were just 0.6 percent lower than those students who submitted their test scores.”

What was a better predictor of college success than these standardized tests? High school grades.  Students who had “low or modest test scores, but good high school grades, did better in college than those with good scores but modest grades.” NPR

Since they are losing their street cred for being a college gatekeeper, now the ACT is pushing its expertise on businesses. They are laying a wider footprint with the CWRC, working with national, state and local level policy makers to track the skills (math, reading and locating) gap. Remember that ACT had a major seat at the table of developing common core standards. Those  skills are then pushed by policy making teachers focus on them  using “tools integrated into career pathways with stackable industry-recognized credentials.”

The ACT gatekeeper is working on a SET of credentials that people will have to obtain in order for industry to consider them for employment. Didn’t that used to be the domain of the unions, only they called it licensing? I wonder if the unions are included in that list of business/industry representatives that are on the local CWRC team.

You can rest assured that local job training program you are sending your five year old to (formerly known as kindergarten) is working with ACT on this new credentialing system. You can be sure that, if a student needs an NCRC in order to get a job,  your local school will be aligning its curriculum with those requirements.  And if your child can get past the first gate and be admitted to college, they may have a chance of passing the second gate and earning their NCRC. Is being a graduate or getting a diploma going to mean anything in the future or are we all prepared to turn things over to yet another NGO?



Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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