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Virginia Journal of Education


Certified Competence


by Sandy R. Jones

You've heard of Advanced Placement tests, and probably the tests students must take in the International Baccalaureate program. You're certainly familiar with the many tests associated with the Virginia Standards of Learning program. Testing has seemingly become the focus of much of what we do in the classroom today. But there's a whole different testing program that you may know little about, one that has a great impact on the future of many of our students. Young people enrolled in career and technical education (CTE) classes may be taking another kind of test-a certification exam.

Through the Virginia Department of Education's High School Industry Credentialing initiative, students can earn a credential or license by passing an approved exam, while still studying for a high school diploma. Students who pass such exams can earn up to two verified credits toward graduation.

The state of Virginia recognizes three types of certifications or credentials:
. State Licensure Exams
. Industry Certification Exams
. Occupational Competency Assessments

State-issued licenses and certifications for positions such as cosmetologists, emergency medical technicians, pharmacy technicians and practical nurses are required in order for an individual to be hired and to be able to perform the designated job.

Industry certification exams such as Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint), Computer Aided Design (CAD), or Automotive Services Excellence (ASE) reflect skills that a student has learned and are recognized worldwide. While they may not be mandatory for obtaining a job, employers value them as predictors of success.

Specialized occupational competency assessments such as those developed by the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) are available for programs that do not have a state license requirement or certification identified by industry, such as horticulture. These tests ensure that the student is leaving career and technical education classes with a thorough knowledge of a subject area.

Certification testing has a variety of benefits for students. If students successfully complete a career and technical education course or program and pass the accompanying state-approved credentialing exam, then they may not only be awarded a student-selected verified credit to fulfill a graduation requirement, but can also earn college credit, have a higher earning potential, and ultimately be more marketable. Earning an industry credential serves as evidence that students have gone through extensive educational preparation in their chosen career area and, as a result, have gained proven skills. It's also a confidence boost for students to know that they have achieved a high level of competency.

At the end of 2006, Virginia had approved 187 different credentials linked to CTE courses in the state's public schools.

The number of students taking industry certification tests has increased substantially in the past few years. In 2002, when Virginia began administering the exams, fewer than 1,000 students participated. By the school year 2005-06, that number had increased to more than 7,500 students reported by school divisions as passing an industry certification credential.

Industry credentialing has added rigor and relevance to the CTE programs in our schools. It ensures that students are better prepared for employment, study at the postsecondary level, and for life in general.

For more information about industry certification visit the Virginia Department of Education's Office of Career and Technical Education website at www.pen.k12.va.us/VDOE/Instruction/CTE/certification/.

Jones, a Fairfax Education Association member, is the immediate past president of the Virginia Association for Career and Technical Education. She serves as the coordinator of family and consumer sciences for Fairfax County's Office of CTE.


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