Proposal targets trade schools

Construction students would be required to pass national certification exam

September 17, 2006|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun Reporter

In response to construction industry concerns about students' readiness for the work force, Carroll County school officials have proposed requiring certain career and technology students to pass a national construction certification exam to advance to higher-level courses.

If the school board approves the proposal, students taking carpentry, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration, masonry and welding, would be required to pass a National Construction Certification Test. The proposal is expected to return to the board for approval at its Oct. 11 meeting.

"All of this is a part of [the Maryland State Department of Education] and Carroll County Public Schools' raising the bar for our students and sending out as future employees to our business partners students who have foundational skills and really are able to perform in the workplace," Majorie Lohnes, supervisor of career and technology education for Carroll, told school board members.

The proposal was prompted by findings that students in the construction trades program are among the lowest-performing on statewide assessments, Lohnes said.

The test "makes sure they're in the right place," Lohnes said.

The 50-question, hour-long exam is aligned with the National Construction Trades Association's curriculum, which the school system uses at its career and technology centers. She said the certification test covers basic safety, handling power tools, reading blueprints, communication and readiness skills.

"The industry is saying, `Do not send students on to more construction-specific areas until they can do this fundamental work,' and they must pass before they go onto that," Lohnes said.

Board members had several questions about the proposal and initially seemed to think that it would make the exam a graduation requirement. Passing the test would not be a graduation requirement, Lohnes said.

Board member Cynthia L. Foley asked whether a student would fail the course if he or she didn't pass the national exam. But Lohnes -- who said that students can retake the exam up to four times in a calendar year -- assured Foley that a student could pass the course because of good grades on lab assignments and coursework.

Lohnes added that remediation and additional training are provided for students who don't pass the exam.

"There isn't any course that anybody takes that only one thing determines the end grade," she said. "But this does determine whether you can move on in the program."

Board member C. Scott Stone, however, supported the idea of not allowing a student to pass the class if he or she fails the exam.

"A student shouldn't get credit for the course if [he or she] can't pass the basic test," he said.

Board president Thomas G. Hiltz wondered whether such certification exams should be required of students in other programs, such as cosmetology, as prerequisites for moving to higher-level coursework.

Lohnes said in other programs, such as cosmetology and automotive technology, students take an end-of-program certification exam.

"If our goal is to make sure that our students are ready for the work force, to me it makes sense that we look again at whether we should require passing of these other certifications so that they can be successful out in the work force," Hiltz said.

Lohnes said students in the career and technology program have a "competency profile" that marks their skill levels in addition to grades.

"We are assessing students throughout [the program] in a formative way," she said.

In an interview later, Lohnes said the certification test was administered to students in Carroll for the first time last spring and she was surprised when only about 50 percent of the students earned the minimal passing score of 78 percent.

She said although she was dismayed at the large percentage of students not passing the exam, only a few students had very low scores.

"Most were just a question or two off," she said. "It's like every other time that students have a new test. It takes some time to get used to it."

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