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From The Classroom to The Abyss: Modern College and Career Readiness

Standardized testing has been used in dozens of countries to test students’ readiness for college, careers, and life.


Passionate about amplifying the voices of unheard students. Loves photography, advocacy, and any form of chocolate.

Somewhere in America, a boy walks into his private school at 7:45 in the morning. In his backpack are his MacBook, array of colorful markers, and a new TI-84 calculator. When he walks into his first class of the day, history, he is greeted by his teacher, a Princeton graduate, an array of expensive new textbooks, and a Smartboard, a standard learning tool for his school.

Somewhere else in America, a boy walks into an underfunded public school. His bus has broken down again, so he had to walk the 20 minutes to get there. His backpack is torn and used, but he’s luckier than his peers who can’t afford a backpack at all. His first class of the day is also history, but he is greeted by a teacher without a teaching degree who is tired from working late night shifts at the local McDonald’s. There is no smartboard in his room. There is just a globe that sits in the corner which still labels Russia as the USSR.

In 2018, a young man in the city of Chaoyang in China jumped off a building to his death. It was the day of his gaokao: the Chinese test that is the sole criteria for college admissions in the country. Tragically, the day that was supposed to begin the rest of his life ended it instead.

Standardized testing has been used in dozens of countries to test students’ readiness for college, careers, and life. Problematically, they’ve historically failed to accommodate for a significant amount of students. Today, in Kentucky, the failures of our standardized testing system are evident. We often few these tests as the only path to college — but is college really as necessary as we’ve always thought? In Tennessee, where students are trained to have the skills necessary in all workforces, the enhancement of their education can be seen.

Sanaa Kahloon — The State of College Readiness in Kentucky

Academically, emotionally, and logistically, we are failing our high schoolers and dooming them to be ineffective in today’s developing economy. As a nation, we are putting too much emphasis on testing students and not enough on actually educating them. In Kentucky, specifically, the only measure of college readiness is ACT score, meaning the state declares a student “college ready” if they’ve met certain benchmarks on the ACT. This leads to several issues; it disregards text anxiety that can impact an intelligent and hard-working students’ scores, the natural ability of some unmotivated students to take standardized tests, and the emotional intelligence of younger students who can score uncommonly high.

Take Molly*(her name was changed to protect her identity), a girl from Fleming County. She has single-handedly raised her two younger siblings due to her mother’s absenteeism and her father’s alcoholism. She has a 4.0 GPA, has taken every advanced course possible at her school, set a school record on the AVSAB, the US Armed Forces qualification test, and has an IQ near genius level. Molly doesn’t plan on going to college because she has an 18 on her ACT. She’s taken it as many times as she can afford, but she has been unable to overcome her testing anxiety. Because she’s low-income and ineligible for scholarships due to her ACT score, there is no way for this bright young girl to get to college. She wanted to be a nurse but is now resigning herself to working at a factory.

Molly also speaks of a boy in her math class who’s unmotivated, sleeps through all his classes, and has no drive to succeed — who also happens to have a very high ACT score. She says, “[He’s] now eligible for college enrollment and scholarships. I guarantee you he’s not going to last like I would have.” Everyone knows that one kid who sleeps through his classes and still gets straight As. Often, this one student is the source of frustration for those students who must work to succeed, even if it’s to a lesser degree than That Student who doesn’t try, when in reality the better college student/employee will be the student that diligently work until they succeed.

There’s also the case of Isabella*, a friend of mine who scored a 33 on her ACT as a seventh-grader. At 12 years old, she was officially considered “college ready” by the state of Kentucky. She says, “If I’d been put in college classes, I’m sure I would’ve been fine. But emotionally, it would be so difficult, just because of the age gap and the fact that I wouldn’t be independent enough to take care of myself.” This side, the emotional and logistical readiness, is never taken into account when determining this abstract “readiness.” Everyone can agree that a 12-year-old is ready for neither college nor career, no matter how high their ACT score is. Why isn’t this nuance reflected?

Kentucky is doing its students a huge disservice in preparing them for college by using such an ineffective method of determining readiness. Instead of using ACT as the sole variable in determining a student’s preparedness to enter college, we should instead be taking a more holistic approach. The state should look at GPA, writing ability, attendance record, and teacher opinion, all of which have been proven to be better indicators of success at the collegiate level. Students need more education on the mechanics of applying to college, which can be solved by individualized attention from a counselor who is genuinely invested in every child’s education. The problem is systemic, and the solution should be as well.

Charlotte Barron — The State of Career Readiness in Tennessee

The storage closet behind the cafeteria was the headquarters of my first business venture. As a 6th grade project, my friend and I decided to create a campaign focused around funding art programs at the public preschool. We made rings, handcrafted jewelry from colored pencil shavings. All proceeds go to Chambliss Center read the sign I had slaved over with washable markers. This project was our greatest achievement, plans to build it into an empire were in full swing. Think of the lives we could influence, the impact we could have.

We ended up selling one ring. Seven dollars in total.

By 2015, the storage closet that once held my ring factory had been converted into a ‘Design Thinking’ classroom. A place for students to explore their own impact and learn real-world constraints. By 2016, my friend and classmate Adelle Pritchard had opened her own self-sustaining restaurant. 2017 — A Volkswagen E-Lab is built onto our Design Thinking classroom, adding 3D printers, a laser cutter, and a vinyl printer. My standards for education were being increasingly reformed. My classmates and I were developing a voice as our platform was actively being built.

“We’re often talking about the future for students, when they can contribute to the community now,” Grant Knowles is the Design Thinking instructor at my former middle school, an advocate for student expression. “Future ready is a huge buzzword, we can’t just throw it around.”

He and many other educational influencers in my area are fighting to break down classroom walls and invite students into the conversation. The ideals of ‘career readiness’ are beyond test scores and GPAs. It’s about exploring students interest and capabilities, it’s “being able to learn in a ubiquitous environment where you have to adapt,” it’s the ability to “use the schools to build the job market so it is not pulled from outside the community.” These are the ideals my childhood was built upon.

I was raised with the knowledge that career readiness is accomplished by amplifying student expression and modernizing the curriculum. I was raised with the expectation that I would go to college, that I would have a successful career. I was raised knowing that my presence matters and that I have the ability to make an impact now and always. Many aren’t.

When we are faced with a reality that provides to certain groups over others, it is our duty to bring these opportunities to all students. Progress is being made: public school funding is gradually increasing, student activism is has become a respected form of political action, larger companies are adding more technology to local classrooms. But until every student can claim they have had the same resources I have, progress is not completed. The job market will continue to advance with technology, as will college curriculums and degree usefulness — we must continue fighting to keep up.