Georgia To Allow High School Students To Choose Educational Career Tracks

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Georgia released its statewide SAT scores last week, and the news was familiar but not good. Scores in Georgia declined an average of six points from 2010’s averages, down to 1445 combined for the Math, Critical Reading, and Writing sections of the test.

The standard excuse for Georgia’s poor performance in state by state comparisons of test scores has become so engrained in discussions of SAT’s that it has become the lead in Georgia Department of Education press releases to announce the declining scores. While test scores are down, the percentage of Georgia high school students taking the test rose six percent. A full 80% of the class of 2011 took the SAT, far more than will attend college next year.

State School Superintendent John Barge, serving in his first year in his new position, addressed the number of students taking the test directly, stating that “I believe we have to do a better job of educating our students as to what exam is needed to get into the appropriate postsecondary institution. We have far more students taking the SAT than the number going to four year universities. Many of our postsecondary institutions don’t require the SAT for students to be accepted. When we roll out career pathways next year, the appropriate postsecondary tests needed for enrollment will be clearly outlined for students.”

The career pathways noted by Barge will be a huge change for Georgia’s high school curriculum, and unique nationwide. Students will make choices before their junior year for a career path, and take classes geared to their post high school plans. This differs from Georgia’s current approach implemented by former State School Superintendent Kathy Cox, which delivered a relatively uniform college preparatory curriculum to all high school students. While Cox’s tougher curriculum standards received national praise from education groups, critics charged that the one size fits all approach limited options for non-college bound students, pushing more towards dropping out.

Under the new plan, students would take the same core classes during their freshman and sophomore years, and then be divided into “career clusters” during their junior and senior years. College bound students would focus on a traditional advanced regimen of Advanced Placement and college prep classes, but tailored a bit to their desired field of study. Alternate paths for those looking to attend a two year college or directly enter the workforce would also be available.

In total, there will be 16 clusters that students may choose from, ranging including agriculture, business, and health sciences. Regardless of the path chosen, all students would be college eligible upon graduation. Students would be able to change paths within their junior or senior years, with career exploration being the emphasis. Barge notes that college is a very expensive time for students to try different education paths toward differing careers, and wants to encourage students to test the material that will be the basis of their employment early to ensure a good fit.

A similar approach to high school education is being implemented in other states such as Florida and Wisconsin, though Georgia will be the first to build in career track requirements as a condition to obtaining a diploma.

The approach has potential beyond placing window dressing on Georgia’s average SAT scores. Employers in Georgia continue to note that despite record unemployment, many positions go unfilled because of a lack of skilled candidates available to meet their requirements. Georgia’s new approach to career preparation within the high schools should enable schools to match graduate’s skills to those needed by Georgia employers for those who do not plan to attend higher education immediately upon graduation.

Many other states have tried various matters to suppress those who take the SAT as a manner to raise scores, rather than deal directly with the fundamental education offered to students. Georgia has tried raising the rigor of the curriculum offered to students, and will now supplement the higher standards for college bound students with career education alternatives for those who seek employment after high school.

Georgia should be applauded by avoiding gimmicks such as restricting who can take the SAT, and instead offering true alternatives within the educational system that better suit their needs. But applause alone will not improve test scores or more importantly, educational quality. Georgians at all levels must continue to find innovative solutions to improve our schools, and more importantly, the lives of those who graduate from them.


  1. Max Power says:

    Anyone who has studied educational policy has known one of the reasons Georgia perennially scores at the bottom of the SAT pack was because we had so many kids taking it. Consider Iowa, often hailed for their high SAT scores. In Iowa less than 5% of the kids took the SAT. Of those only 3% were C students. Only 1% had parents who were high school drop outs. Only 13% had household incomes of less than 40K per year.

    For better or worse Georgia’s long favored getting as many kids to take the test as possible, it shouldn’t be the ultimate measure of the success or failure of our academic policies.

    • rense says:

      If SAT scores were the only negative indicator, you’d have a point. The problem is that it isn’t. The dropout rate is sky high, and grades on “No Child Left Behind” type tests – including the tests that the state of Georgia designed itself – are bad also. Then you have all the kids who enter college with HOPE scholarships that wind up needing remediation, or soon lose HOPE. With the exception of Georgia Tech and Emory, Georgia’s universities aren’t highly regarded nationally – and we should note that Tech gained their reputation by monopolizing engineering education in the state and recruiting a ton of out of state students – and doesn’t have the national reputation of an exceptionally talented or skilled work force, especially when you consider that so many of our professionals moved here from other states – and not for the excellent schools, but rather because of the weather, lower cost of living, and lower taxes – the past 25 years.

      Georgia has three problems. One is a huge percentage of population that doesn’t value educational achievement. (Not a whole lot the state can do about that.) The second is that only a very tiny portion of the state population goes to private schools. (Again, not much that the state can do about that. Please, do not say the “voucher” word, as vouchers would come with regulations that would transform private schools into de facto public ones.) The third is that we’ve largely done away with tracking, magnet schools, and other programs designed to help our stronger students.

        • rense says:

          It is just baby steps, and brought on by a desire to avoid competition with charter schools. There is no real movement on the part of state political, educational, or business leaders to step up and say “We need to give our brightest, hardest working, highest achieving students the resources that they need.” Whether that is IB programs, magnet schools, tracking, or increasing dual enrollment programs with colleges that allow high school students to earn college credit (which is an idea that thanks to technology whose time is long overdue to be applied on a mass scale … so long as it is Georgia Southern and Valdosta State offering the college courses in high school and not the University of Phoenix, of course!) there really is no leadership or effort to even try. Instead, the left is more concerned with using public education “as an engine and catalyst for social change.” The right is simply concerned with busting the teacher’s unions, lowering taxes, and – among some – subsidizing religious education (a horrible, horrible idea for anyone who actually cares about religious education, or religion for that matter).

          Charter schools can’t really help on this issue, because charter schools are required to admit everybody by lottery. If there was some way to create charter schools that would only accept college bound kids – kids with a minimum high school GPA for instance – and then tailor the curriculum of those schools to what colleges (and not just the “elite, selective” colleges but colleges in general) are looking for, that would solve a lot of these problems, because it would allow the other schools to give the best options possible for those who aren’t college bound (i.e. vocational education) and best of all it gets us away from this “one size fits all” model and allows us to move towards a more specialized system that better technology makes possible.

          But again, no leadership.

          • KD_fiscal conservative says:

            I also agree with rense of this. But what you are suggesting is already happening my hometown. In my county, the magnet was where all the serious students go. Also, there IS a good joint enrollment program for capable juniors and seniors to go to the local university to take classes, as well as a huge number of AP and other advanced classes. The level of education was/is significantly higher there, and the majority of graduates from that school go on to college and eventually have successful careers. There are ivy leaguers and “top tier” graduates as well as students that go on to other various Georgia colleges every year.

            The negative effect is that is creates a cesspool of underachievers at all of the other high schools in the area, and those school are very vocal about it, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter b/c the outcomes of high SAT scores, and ~98% of students going on to college speaks for itself.

            I think there should be a larger push to keep the hardworking students who are serious about school at the same school, throughout Georgia. Its not good if your trying going for “lowest common denominator” approach of getting ALL students to reach some relative level of “success” but if your trying to educate young folks with the understands that not everyone can or wants to work hard, the magnet school system is the best way.

          • John Konop says:


            This is what I do know about the Cherokee program. The idea started with allowing gifted math kids in the 7th grade to take algebra 1. By tracking this early my kid has completed 2 years of college physics as well as 2 years of college math while in high school. The program was ranked top 10 in the nation.

            Kathy Cox attempted to kill the program and replace it with her failed math 123. That is when I got heavily involved with the issue. I publicly debated the Kathy Cox crowd on expanding the Cherokee program for vocational…… instead of killing the idea. To make a long story short we got a waiver for Cherokee and newspapers picked up the debate I had with Kathy Cox and company on using this concept over her one size fit all system for many years.

            The Cherokee county school board members and Dr. P were very supportive of expanding the concept. I am not sure if they had the original idea of expanding but in person as well as via e-mail they were very supportive of me pushing the idea.

    • Ken says:

      Sorry Max,

      The other Iowa college-bound students (62%) took the ACT rather than the SAT. They finished number two in the nation. Only 44% of Georgia students took the ACT in 2009 and they finished tied for 34th, but even that is not as good as it sounds per the AJC

      Most students in Georgia take the SAT — the other college entrance exam. The ACT is the primary college admissions test for schools in some other parts of the country, so usually the students in Georgia who take the test are higher-achieving students who are more likely to go to college. Because of the differences in the students who take the ACT and SAT, it’s difficult to make comparisons between the two exams, experts have said.

      The scoring isn’t the problem. The problem is that our kids are not learning the things we deem important. A lot of that problem is that we have, perhaps, semi-literate parents who are going to be hard-pressed to keep a child in school – assuming they even believe the child should remain in school. Bleak, isn’t it?

  2. John Konop says:

    VERY GOOD IDEA!!!!!!!

    State appeals No Child Left Behind

    ….In an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Barge said Georgia wants to be able to determine whether a school passes muster, or meets the NCLB benchmark of adequate yearly progress, using a “college- and career-ready performance index.”

    The index would take into account not just CRCT scores, but other factors including:

    ACT and SAT college entrance exam scores;
    Student performance on Advanced Placement tests;
    Student success in career tech classes, such as automotive repair;
    Reading levels in elementary and middle schools;
    And students’ performance in dual enrollment classes, where they earn both high school and college credit.

    The index measures — more details of which will be released today — would apply for elementary, middle and high schools……

  3. ZazaPachulia says:

    This is a good start… but, you need strong vocational training schools, apprenticeships and decent-paying blue collar jobs to make the idea work. Establishing such post-secondary programs cannot be left up to the individual school districts in Georgia for a couple of reasons–1. there are way too many of them and 2. way too few have the resources or leadership to make it work… The state needs to spend on this front, as it has in the past… The best example in Georgia is the tech school taxpayers built for Kia in West Point.

    Like Charlie mentioned in his excellent column, employers are complaining that Georgia does not have enough employable workers. Yet, at the same time, you have companies like AT&T entering into large-scale partnerships with other states (like Georgia’s effort with Kia) to develop and train sustainable workforces. We need the leadership to reach out and make these partnerships happen here. That type of education investment pays huge dividends in the long term.

  4. saltycracker says:

    The idea is great to best develop kids to their aptitude and capability. Vocational schools are where the numbers of jobs are.

    My fear in public education is the bureaucratic system quickly pigeon holes kids.

    Once categorized it is difficult for a kid to change direction. It takes some very involved parents and a little luck.

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