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States Have Skills Standards For Over 60 Jobs, Survey Finds

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States have developed skills standards for what workers should know and be able to do for more than 60 occupations, ranging from store manager to electrician, according to an unpublished survey by the National Association of State Directors of Vocational Technical Education.

The survey suggests that any attempt to develop voluntary skills standards nationally will have to take into account a large variety of pre-existing efforts.

Congress is expected to resume debate about creating a national skills-standards board later this month. (See Education Week, June 2, 1993.)

"There's a wealth of information and experience--and a wealth of working relationships--that need to be learned about and probably respected,'' said Madeleine B. Hemmings, the group's executive director.

"One of my concerns is that nobody seems terribly interested in looking at what's been done,'' she added, "and it really needs to be built on, rather than stepped over.''

Skills standards outline the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed by workers in a particular field. According to the survey, most states began to develop such standards in collaboration with business and industry to make their vocational-education programs more relevant.

Almost all states used skills standards to help develop vocational-education curricula, the survey found, while 29 used them to develop criteria for assessing student mastery.

The majority of states also used such standards to help craft articulation agreements between secondary and postsecondary institutions that provide technical training.

The biggest impetus for state skills-standards efforts came from the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act of 1984. The act requires states to establish technical committees, including representatives of business and industry, to set benchmarks for specific occupational clusters.

Since the act was passed, the study found, nearly 700 such committees have been formed at the state and local levels.

Reliance on Consortia

Because the process of developing skills standards can be costly--Florida spent $289,000 to establish standards for a cluster of health occupations--many states have joined consortia to draft such standards.

The most prominent is the Vocational-Technical Education Consortium of States, or V-TECS, which now has 26 states. The consortium, which has developed skills standards for some 110 occupations, provides a common format for states and a bank of criterion-referenced test items.

Barbara Border, the author of the study, said consortia are likely to become more common as states expand their skills-setting efforts.

States have developed skills standards for 61 occupations, the study indicates, in the fields of agriculture, business, marketing, health, trade and technical activities, personal services, and home economics.

But Ms. Border found that within a given occupation, no one set of skills standards was being used by every state.

"It behooves us to have one set of standards across the nation,'' she argued, "rather than 26 or 30 sets of these things across the United States that might be somewhat different.''

Fewer than half the states have developed and validated test items at the state level to assess how well students meet the skills standards. Most evaluation is tied directly to instruction and left in the hands of individual school districts or postsecondary institutions.

The study found that secondary schools in 42 states, postsecondary institutions in 38 states, business partnerships and apprenticeship programs in 27 states, and Job Training Partnership Act programs in 32 states used the skills standards.

A key concern about national skills standards has been whether they would be a barrier to employment for women and minorities.

The new survey found that states addressed equity issues in a variety of ways. At least 37 states were examining their skills standards for gender bias, while 12 directly involved their sex-equity coordinators in the development of skills standards and curricula.

Five states designed individualized education plans for students with special needs to help them complete occupational-skills training.

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