NorthEd Career Tech gets non-trad grading and job prep nod

Jan. 27—TRAVERSE CITY — Northwest Education Services Career Tech recently received statewide nods for a non-traditional approach to grading and job readiness program support.

Michigan Department of Education awarded the center 2024 Excellence in Practice awards from its work on evidence-based reporting and supporting the regional Jobs for Michigan's Graduates program.

Evidence-based reporting, or EBR, is an approach that emphasizes measuring a student's mastery of specific learning standards or objectives, as opposed to focusing on traditional letter grades.

Students still have the responsibility and are held accountable for understanding the clear framework, and expectations of the instructor in the given course. However, this method promotes a deeper understanding of concepts and skills, rather than "chasing points" said Pat Lamb, assistant superintendent of Career and Technical Education at North Ed.

It's designed to promote a student's deeper understanding and mastery of specific skills through "progressive, demonstrated learning." For example, a student who didn't do well on a test about fixing an engine can demonstrate to their instructor that they can do the job.

It's the one-on-one communication between teacher and student that drives the success of the concept, Lamb said.

"That's a huge part of it. Meeting often with students, it takes more time, but the feedback is more authentic."

North Ed is the first in the state to fully transition to evidence-based reporting and all 22 programs now use the approach.

"This journey started in 2018 when a few of our teachers went to a conference (for something else) and but came back with a curiosity for evidence, standard, and competency-based learning." said Lamb. "We started with a couple programs then, and each year gained some momentum and added more from there."

The concept also plays a role in job readiness, Lamb said.

"I think business and industry is there. They want to know the skill set that your student has specific to the industry they're in," Lamb said.

"The ultimate goal at Career Tech is to prepare students for life after graduation, whether they choose to pursue a college degree or immediate entry into the workforce," said Lamb.

That next step is a focus of Career-Tech's Jobs for Michigan Graduates program, which includes competencies in career development, job attainment, job survival, leadership and self-development, personal skills, life survival skills, and workplace and economic empowerment.

Once enrolled, students are assigned a JMG specialist to assist them with customized services and support designed to meet individual needs, including connecting a student to community resources, transportation assistance, supplying work clothing and more. Students can also get connected to job-shadowing opportunities and paid work experiences with local employers and industry professionals.

"The program is about helping students overcome barriers so they can find a career pathway that leads to success," said Lisa Baldyga, Jobs for Michigan Graduates specialist. "In addition to supporting students with individual needs, we help them develop the skills every employer looks for in an employee, like communication and leadership skills, financial management, developing goal-setting behaviors and learning how to collaborate with others."

Last year, of the 4,469 statewide students in the Jobs for Michigan Graduates program, North Ed served 346 students regionally, with 99 percent graduating from high school. Of those, 82 percent pursued employment, the military or college after high school. Of those entering the workforce, 81 percent found full-time employment.

Receiving the MDE award provides extra motivation for students or other schools that may be looking to North Ed as an example of how to implement it, she said.

Lamb credited the awards to the staff for working together and being open-minded.

"The staff buy in. It's not an easy concept to converse with teachers, especially ones that have been around. But the school has been so responsive and open, and that award we're receiving is for all of their effort and the amount of times we had professional development, the amount of times we had folks from other districts come in to study, to learn and see what we're doing." Lamb said.

"Our enrollment is the highest it's ever been, and it's all a testament to our team."