Across the State of Illinois, 93 high schools as part of 16 distinct Illinois 60 by 25 Leadership Communities and community partners are developing plans for implementation of the College and Career Pathway Endorsements, a cornerstone of the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act (PWR Act). This Endorsement provides a mechanism for school districts to validate the hard work that students do to prepare for what comes after high school, anchored in course sequences and work-based learning that supports a student’s career ideas and goals.
Each of these communities is approaching this work differently, but what has become clear is that the College and Career Pathway Endorsements have provided a vehicle for school districts to bridge existing work to state policy in very exiting ways.
Planning for Standards-Based Learning
When Dr. Daniel Woestman began his tenure as the new Superintendent of District 100 in Spring of 2016, he began a strategic planning process anchored in the District’s new mission: “To Empower All Learners to Achieve Personal Excellence.” The strategic planning process identified a desired learning environment, one that was student-centered and anchored in personalization, student ownership, technology enhanced learning, and a competency-based approach to learning.
The District had long been developing and implementing the use of proficiency scales, which was one of the key steps that the district took towards a standards-based grading system which allows teachers to more clearly communicate academic growth and skill development individually to students and parents. Development of these scales begins with “unpacking” standards where teachers identify key vocabulary in the standard and then clearly state what a student will know and what skill they would master.
The development of this strategic plan occurred alongside the 2016 passage of the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act, which the District recognized was aligned to their broader plans around student development. The District quickly began adjusting its learning environment to simultaneously adopt all elements of the PWR Act.
Answering the Question
In District 100, the new Director of Career Readiness, Nik Butenhoff, presented teachers with pathway course sequences that had been developed as part of the process of aligning CTE programs to ensure that the career focused course sequences, that had been created in partnership with Rock Valley College as part of the Endorsement Framework, were in place. As teachers and administrators were presented with pathway course sequences, they began asking an important question: “How are we sure that these are the right courses to prepare students for what industry needs?”
Nik referred back to work that he had been exposed to as part of the Illinois 60 by 25 Network and because of existing relationships with EdSystems. Since June 2017, EdSystems, in partnership with JFF, has spearheaded a process to map the competencies that will form the backbone for these Endorsements. Competencies, or the statements that indicate what students need to know and be able to do, can help to form a coherent common language that bridges the structural differences between educational institutions and employers. Endorsements, because they are formed around competencies, can define and strengthen overlapping interests between employers and education.
Nik went back to the postsecondary instructors he had originally partnered with to review the pathway course sequence and compared the learning outcomes of those courses to the first set of competencies, which define both essential employability and technical competencies in 4 key industry areas: Manufacturing and Engineering; Information Technology; Finance and Business Services; and Health Sciences and Technology. What the instructors discovered was that most of the competencies would be achieved in the courses that had been selected as part of the pathways and could be additionally addressed through work-based learning activities in partnership with employers. The competencies turned out to be the “missing link that we didn’t even know we needed”.
Unpacking CTE Standards
Not only did the competencies that were developed help to shape the courses and work-based learning opportunities that are being planned, but they will also help act as standards for Career and Technical Education courses, which had been difficult to create proficiency scales for. CTE and core academic courses have different funding streams, teacher requirements, and standards; the technical skill competencies have now helped the District begin the process for writing scales for CTE courses and has provided the mechanism to allocate Perkins dollars to fund this work. This process has allowed the District to align career focused course sequences to meet industry needs and will allow the CTE departments to participate in the academic innovation that is occurring in the rest of the District.