Promoting Career Readiness in Arkansas High Schools

The Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) is focused on transforming Arkansas to lead the nation in student-focused education. To accomplish this vision, one of ADE’s goals is for each student to meet or exceed milestones along pathways to graduate high school prepared for college, career, and community engagement.

Some career and technical education (CTE) students in Arkansas high schools take ACT WorkKeys to measure their foundational workplace skills in Applied Math, Workplace Documents, and Graphic Literacy. Moreover, students can earn a National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), which certifies skills to potential employers and post-secondary training programs.

ADE identified WorkKeys scores as a possible data source that could be embedded within their electronic transcript system to inform career counselors and parents statewide about students’ levels of workforce readiness. For that reason, ADE partnered with ACT Research to share data and explore relationships between educational programs and foundational workplace skills measured by WorkKeys.

This report focuses on educational programs in high schools with greater-than-expected WorkKeys performance. That is, compared to other schools enrolling students with similar ACT scores and demographics, these schools exhibited higher average WorkKeys scores.

Ten such schools were contacted to find out how they promote WorkKeys performance and career readiness more generally. Results revealed common themes such as supporting career exploration, connecting students and local employers, using WorkKeys Curriculum to prepare students for the WorkKeys Assessments, and emphasizing the value of the NCRC.

The following Arkansas high schools are represented in results:

  1. Benton High School
  2. Camden Fairview High School
  3. Crossett High School
  4. Manila High School
  5. Pine Bluff High School
  6. Rivercrest High School
  7. Rogers New Technology High School
  8. Russellville High School
  9. Warren High School
  10. Western Yell County High School

Conclusions

A brief survey was administered to Arkansas high schools with greater-than-expected WorkKeys performance with the goal of identifying potentially effective practices for promoting career readiness. All respondents indicated that WorkKeys Assessments were required components of courses designed to prepare students for college and careers.

The high schools offered a variety of additional strategies to foster career readiness. This included internships, work-based learning, or youth apprenticeship programs as well as integrating career readiness curricula into CTE courses, active counseling to support the development of students’ career plans, project-based learning across the curriculum, and interaction with local business leaders.

All high schools reported using WorkKeys Curriculum to help prepare students to take the NCRC assessments, and some schools use WorkKeys Curriculum to determine when
students are ready to take the tests. Only one school described classroom instruction specifically targeted at the skills measured by the NCRC assessments, but general academic coursework should help students prepare for WorkKeys as well.

The high schools described a variety of methods to increase awareness of the importance of performing well on WorkKeys, including informational presentations, videos, and assignments, as well as guest speakers, field trips, motivational banners, and public recognition for NCRC attainment. High schools in Arkansas and around the US can learn from each other to support the shared goals of closing skills gaps, ensuring career readiness and success, and supporting economic development.