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Labor Awards Contract for Test of Student Work Skills

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WASHINGTON--The federal government has awarded a $1.4 million contract to help develop a national assessment of students' workforce readiness.

The award to American College Testing was made last month by the Labor Department, in collaboration with the Education Department and the Office of Personnel Management.

The contract grew out of a report issued last year by the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. That document called for basic changes in the way America's young people are prepared for the workplace.

The SCANS report estimated that fewer than half of young Americans possess the skills needed to find and hold a job, and it challenged schools to make "workplace know-how'' part of every student's instruction.

According to Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin, "This new testing tool will allow assessments of the workforce readiness of individual students, helping them and their future employers to become more competitive in the global economy.''

The SCANS report identified five competencies that are essential to successful performance in any job: allocating resources, such as time, money, and materials; demonstrating interpersonal skills; using information; understanding systems; and using technology.

The 18-month contract to the Iowa City-based ACT will support the development of specifications and test items for use in a national assessment that will determine what students know and can do in each of the competency areas.

Seeking Consensus

According to Robert Korte, the project's director, the contract has two parts. First, the testing firm will work with representatives of business, labor, education, and government to achieve a broad national consensus on how to further define and assess the workplace competencies identified by SCANS. Second, the ACT will develop the assessment exercises to measure those skills effectively and efficiently.

"These exercises will make it possible to assess young Americans' workplace skills in the same way that their academic performance is currently monitored by the National Assessment of Educational Progress,'' Mr. Korte said.

The proposed assessments will use sampling techniques that yield data at the national, regional, and state levels. No data on individual students, schools, or school districts will be reported. The SCANS assessments may also be used in the federal government's National Adult Literacy Survey, according to the ACT

The testing firm is familiar with the field of workforce readiness. For the past two years, it has been developing "Work Keys,''a program for assessing and teaching students generic workplace skills and matching them with potential employers.

The ACT will work closely with the Council of Chief State School Officers in the new endeavor. The council will establish a steering committee of employers, educators, labor leaders, and policymakers to guide the work of the technical experts who will define the workplace competencies to be assessed.

--Lynn Olson

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