Darren Doyle, story and photo
If you're like most Edmonson County parents that try to have some sort of involvement with your child's school, you know all to well the importance of test scores. Sometimes it seems like too much, but unfortunately, test scores are how schools are ranked and judged in the state of Kentucky.
The most common complaints from parents are things like "If it's not on the test, then it's not being taught," or "There's more to life than what's on these tests," and even "Test scores may be higher, but our kids are dumber."
As a parent myself, I certainly see the significance and truth to all three. It especially gets under my skin when I see a question like this (which, by the way, is a real test question): "Elijah went to dinner and a school concert for 3 and 7/12 hours. The concert lasted 1 and 2/3 hours. How many hours was dinner?" Ok, I get it, this is supposed to teach adding and subtracting fractions (I think). The problem is, no one talks like this in real life. Have you ever said, "Can you be there in 7/12ths of an hour?..."
We have some of the finest teachers and staff right here at home and they don't have much control over questions like these. They must follow state requirements, and those requirements are very plain spoken. Some of those requirements don't make a lot of sense to sensible people, but it's part of school these days.
ECHS has now implemented a program that seems to be able to bridge the gap between the emphatic stress on test scores and helping kids succeed in the real world, all without using 7/12ths of an hour. Under the new program, the current freshman class will have to be college or career ready in order to graduate in 2019.
ECHS Principal Tommy Hodges says "college ready" has been an emphasis in most school systems for 25-30 years, but the new piece of the puzzle being "career ready," which was first introduced in some schools 6-7 years ago, and now being introduced to Edmonson County this year.
"I'm a firm believer that average is not good enough," Hodges said. "I've talked to many factories and folks in lots of other types of jobs and asked what they wanted in new employees. Over the past 16 years in education, it's three things: Show up on time, work hard, and be adaptable. They say that someone that can do these three things can be a foreman if not running a plant in a certain number of years. But those three characteristics are missing from our youth nowadays."
He says the addition of "career ready" in the school system teaches kids how to develop those three characteristics along with responsibility, and to learn what it takes to make a good employee.
He said he would never say that college is always the "best way to do it," as he admitted he didn't think so when he was in high school himself. "To be honest, there are people I went to high school with that didn't go to college and they make way more money than I do and work half the time."
He quickly pointed out that ECHS still pushes college education, which also includes tech schools. "Most of those that were successful outside of college had to bust their hump to do it," he added. He said one of the main goals to adding "career ready" is that it teaches students work ethic and helps give them a better idea of which career path they can follow by the end of their sophomore year.
Hodges said the program requires all students to graduate ECHS college OR career ready, while honor students have to graduate college AND career ready. "Say you want to be a doctor. Ok, we'll give you all the math and science capabilities we can, but it's also good to have some other career opportunity, because anymore, with high level jobs, you need a background in something else, too."
If you're worried about classes being shifted around and students no longer being able to take electives, Hodges said only one required class has been added to the curriculum, and electives (band, drama, etc.) are still available. He said that for the most part, ECHS will continue their business much the same as they have over the past several years.
"Based on the accountability that we have to the state of Kentucky, we have to concentrate the majority of our time on scores. If not, then the state comes in and takes over. Our scores are up, they're improving and the teachers worked hard to see that and they're working hard to do it again this year," he said.
Hodges says he hears parents' concerns with the emphasis on test scores. "I can understand where some parents think the common sense part is being left out, but again, we run by scores and that's why we spend the time on them, but we also do our best to include what I call an informal common sense education," he added. He explained that there was basically a formal education, which is English, math, science, etc. and then the informal education, which is simply how to be successful in the world.
He said the "career ready" has been added to teach students things like how to dress and act during an interview, how to be a good employee, and similar ideas not found on tests. "I've seen some top academic students and worry about them in the real world," he said. "They do fine in college, but they never really learn real work ethic, so they're found lacking and it's going to be a struggle."
Hodges said he's always been a believer in students having some sort of job while in school. "I think it's important for them to see, hey this is the world. I know there are lots of B and C students here because they have jobs, but you know what? They're going to make it."
He also discussed the disadvantages to being in a rural area when it comes to job opportunities and that sometimes students have "culture shock" when they get in the real world, but he quickly spoke of the many advantages that lie within as well.
"It has zero to do with me...zero, but this high school is great. The teachers and individuals that work here, they're great, they do a great job here and they were doing that long before I got here."
He said that the program will see the students all the way through to their senior year and if it doesn't look like they're going to be college or career ready, there are emergency plans in place to help students in need by pairing them with a business for a short internship to help them complete the requirements needed to become ready.
So, if you're tired of hearing about testing, testing, and more testing, cheer up. This program seems to fill in some holes that many parents feel are being stepped in by their kids. I would guess 7/12ths of them or more will be happy with being college or career ready, or both.