Automated Career Guidance Software System Brings Big Payoffs to California School District

Automated Career Guidance Software System Brings Big Payoffs to California School District

A small rural school district situated in California's picturesque Sierra Nevada mountain range once operated its career guidance program the old-fashioned way, with copious quantities of time, toil, and boxes of paper and pencils. Consequently, their students were often bored and uninspired whenever it came time to chart their futures, and instructors spent most of their time with logistical administration, not teaching.

Sandy Bluffs Alternative Education Program at the Sierra Unified School District in the Auberry-Prather area near Shaver Lake educates approximately 350 students, in three separate age groups. The first group serves 60 high school students in their Continuation Program who have learning or behavior challenges. The second group consists of 150 children enrolled in an Independent Studies Program, who only meet periodically while working on their own at home. The third assists approximately 150 adult students in night school that are making up credits for a high school diploma or GED equivalency, or that need instructional hours for the federally-mandated CalWorks welfare-to-work program.

Counselors and teachers throughout the entire Alternative Education Program were continually frustrated with the excessive amount of time and effort that their manual career guidance program required. Additionally, students often felt stifled by the tedious, complex, and seemingly unrewarding results from the paper assessment surveys.

"When we were doing the assessments by hand, our counselors had to spend a lot of time grading them in house or sending them to grading agencies," remarked Mike Ashmore, a teacher and the Head of Guidance Counseling for the Alternative Education Program. "We were using a whole variety of evaluation materials from a half dozen different assessment vendors, so none of the information was compatible."

"In the past we never had time to do much consultation with the kids after the assessments were finished because we were always so busy just administering the work," Ashmore insisted. "Meanwhile, most of the paper assessments had no aptitude testing, and the interest questions were inconclusive. Additionally, because we were using so many different products, none of the information matched, so we couldn't put together a coherent assessment. The result was a lack of substantial information that was understandable to the students. Nor were we able to piece together an honest appraisal of their skills and abilities."

The school district had a software package that was used at the district's high school, but it also did not perform any abilities testing. Ashmore knew that it was time to investigate new software programs that would automate their career guidance program.

"After years of offering students a manual program that was tedious and time-consuming, I knew that I needed to begin looking for a software system that could free up my instructor's time, and that the students would readily take to," Ashmore explained. "I started looking through the hundreds of tech publications and company brochures that we get every week, and finally found a software package by a company in the southwest U.S."

The automated system, called Magellan, is produced by Valpar International Corporation of Tucson, Arizona, a leader in occupational skills assessment tools for over 25 years.

Magellan uses nine independent assessment processes to measure seven groups of job-related factors: academics (including reading, math, spelling and vocabulary), physical skills, temperaments, people skills, data skills, interests and time required for training.

The student's task is to find his or her top five picks in Magellan's database of over 1,000 occupations. The student is guided by the assessments and informed by the comprehensive data sources that are part of the database. The ultimate goal of creating awareness is automatically accomplished during this process.

The basic cycle is to complete one of the assessments and then explore the occupational database using the results. Exploration involves selecting one of the matching occupations and then consulting the on-line data references to learn more about it. These references include job-task descriptions, wage and employment data, interest exploration information, and four-year class schedules that can be modified by individual schools.

Using a filename and a password, students can access their own file in the PC for their documents, and are able to keep their data private. A student can come in and work for 30 minutes, save it, and then come back in two weeks to easily edit or merge the new work with the stored material. When needed, he or she can quickly print out the information to put in a portfolio.

After installing the Magellan program in the career guidance center, Ashmore immediately began to see changes in the way students and counselors inter-related and how they handled their work.

"A big change was that students began to work independently. Since the younger students are so visually-oriented, they love working on the computer," observed Ashmore. "Before, they would often tire quickly and get bored with the old-style paperwork process. Now they spend about 45 minutes once per week and it doesn't get boring, like taking a 3 1/2 hour written test."

"Since my counselors don't have to grade assessments anymore or help students pour over job exploration books, they can sit down with students and realistically help them decide how to chart their career paths."

Not only are the interactions between staff and students more quality-orientated with the automated system, but, the time required to complete the course has been dramatically reduced to only seven hours of PC work for the students.

"The savings of time to students translates into more enthusiasm and motivation during the process," Ashmore maintained. "Counselors now have time to answer questions more completely and spend more one-on-one time with students. Therefore, 100% of their time is now spent working with students, not doing paper grading and administrative work."

"Without a doubt, I can strongly recommend Magellan," continued Ashmore. "I feel that it's the best, low cost system on the market. If anyone wants to visit our school and talk to us about how we're using Magellan, they are very welcome.

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