PARCC scores will help N.J. better prep its future workforce

Opinion by NJBIA president Michele Siekerka in the Star-Ledger


 We must ensure we are educating our future workforce for the jobs of tomorrow and one important way to do this is through strong education standards and a rigorous assessment program. 

To do so we must identify where gaps can exist and close them. The PARCC results recently released by the New Jersey Department of Education provide a benchmark from which to begin to close those gaps in order to ensure that all students are career ready, whether they enter the labor pool straight from high school, career and technical training, community college or a four-year college. 

NJBIA's 20,000 member companies representing approximately 1.2 million jobs in New Jersey tell us that a workforce ready labor pool is critical. 

However, NJBIA's latest Business Outlook Survey shows a broad dissatisfaction with entry-level employees' employability skills, such as communications, critical thinking and self-motivation. More specifically, the survey found that 67 percent of our members said their entry-level workers had fair or poor math and science skills; while 73 percent had fair or poor written communications skills and 63 percent had fair or poor verbal communications skills.

Helping individuals at all levels in the workforce pipeline have the employability skills they need to be successful remains a high priority of NJBIA. Working with the State Employment and Training Commission, we have undertaken a well-coordinated effort to ensure that there is a greater focus not only on employability skills, but that there are aligned career readiness standards for New Jersey students, so they too are ready for the world of work when the time comes.

Editorial: Take-home lessons from the PARCC

Working with educators and the Department of Education, we have ensured the career readiness standards enable students to make informed decisions about their future and meet the challenges of the 21st century workplace.

The PARCC results show less than half of students in the state reached the proficiency baseline in English and math suggesting more than half of students in New Jersey may not be learning at grade level. While these tests are not all encompassing of our students' progress, we should view these statistics as a challenge, a call-to-action to ensure that 100 percent of New Jersey's students are ready for either work or college when they graduate from high school. 

Now that the PARCC scores have been released it is important to look at what these results mean and what the business community (as well as educators, parents and administrators) can do to ensure student success. 

The state's new high-quality standards successfully align to workforce skills and college-level curriculum. They emphasize critical thinking and are equipping students with the integral skills needed to perform well in entry-level jobs. The state's exams also serve as one of many measures that objectively demonstrate how our state's future workforce compares to the rest of the country. 

By emphasizing higher standards and accurate assessments, New Jersey is taking the right steps to meet the needs of the future workforce. With an evolving economy, students must be ready for the next challenge. Our state, a traditional leader in academic performance, is setting higher expectations and guiding students in the right direction toward career success. 

Michele Siekerka is the president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.

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