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Putting career aptitude assessments used in schools to the test

A PEEK INTO A POSSIBLE FUTURE—Students who take the online career assessment test by YouScience have access to information on careers that could be a good fit for them, such as day-in-the-life, core job tasks, salaries and educational requirements.
A PEEK INTO A POSSIBLE FUTURE—Students who take the online career assessment test by YouScience have access to information on careers that could be a good fit for them, such as day-in-the-life, core job tasks, salaries and educational requirements.

Twelve of Nashville’s largest high schools in November began piloting an online test that assesses ninth-graders’ job aptitudes along with their career interests.

Many states, including Washington and New Jersey, have created similar career-oriented middle and high school exams that are based on interests rather than skills, says Katie Fitzgerald, senior associate of communications of Advance CTE, a national nonprofit that represents state education leaders.

New Jersey offers districts the New Jersey Career Assistance Navigator, a free, web-based system that identifies national, New Jersey and local careers.

Washington state’s Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board has created Career Bridge, a website that includes a career quiz, information on trending jobs and tools to identify what education degrees to pursue.

And elementary schools in Maryland are leveraging the Project Lead the Way engineering program to open professional pathways, says Ashleigh McFadden, state policy manager at Advance CTE.

“They connect students with STEM careers these kids wouldn’t necessarily have heard about,” says McFadden. “It’s a collaborative effort between state school counseling and Career and Technical Education offices. It's rare for this type of coordination to happen within state Departments of Education."

Testing caution

Aptitude tests have long been popular in helping to decide a career path, despite questionable effectiveness.

Schools should use career aptitude tests only as part of the planning process to identify which skills students may need to develop for a job they are interested in, says Terri Tchorzynski, a high school counselor at Calhoun Area Career Center in Michigan and the state’s 2017 School Counselor of the Year.

“It should not be the ‘be-all and do-all’ of future planning,” she says.

Students who test poorly may receive inaccurate results that indicate they do not possess the skills to pursue a particular career.

“Getting students to understand that these assessments are only a guide to exploring careers is very important,” says Tchorzynski. “Students need to know that the results are not the final indicator of whether they can pursue a specific career. It’s a conversation-starter.”

It’s also important to determine if the test aligns with local workforce needs, says McFadden. “Ask local employers if it will accurately guide students to a career that’s right for them,” she says.