Kansas state school board recommends individual study plans

Sometime during seventh or eighth grade, Wichita middle-school students complete an “interest inventory” that pinpoints their passions and gets them thinking about potential careers.

“It is a little window to their soul,” said Diann Faflick, career facilitator for the Wichita school district. “You kind of get a peek at how those things line up. … And that’s kind of our starting point.”

The Kansas Career Pipeline survey marks the beginning of each student’s individual plan of study, a process that helps guide him or her into high school and beyond.

The Kansas State Board of Education is recommending – but not requiring – that all districts develop individual plans of study for every high school student. The board this week approved a motion “strongly recommending” the plans, known as IPSes, to help guide Kansas high school students as they choose careers.

Board members stopped short of requiring the plans, though, noting that many schools don’t have enough guidance counselors to develop plans for every student.

“I think every school district should have it, but I’m hesitant to mandate that you’ve got to have it,” said board member Jim McNiece, a former principal at Northwest High School in Wichita. “There’s more to it than that.”

Currently, IPSes are used mostly for students in career and technical education programs. The students take a career interest survey in eighth grade and then work with counselors to choose appropriate high school classes for that career.

In 2011, Kansas lawmakers passed a law expanding career and technical education, which included asking the state board to study the feasibility of requiring individual plans of study for all students and to report its decision at the start of the this year’s session.

A Department of Education survey found that about 88 percent of school districts offer students a chance to develop an IPS, but only about half prepare them for all high school students. Most districts that don’t offer IPSes said they didn’t have enough counselors, didn’t offer enough elective courses or had other time and financial priorities.

Faflick, a former school counselor who now coordinates career counseling programs for the district, spoke to the state board Tuesday. Although Wichita has only one counselor for about every 400 students, schools still focus on college and career planning, she said.

“Yes, it’s a challenge to meet with 375 kids on your caseload and make sure that this is in place,” she said. “But you concentrate more on it at different times during their progression.”

Personal plans of study on file for Wichita high-schoolers help them outline their required English, math, science and other courses, as well as electives. The forms and process may vary by school, but most note a student’s scores on state assessments and college entrance exams, and they list potential “career choices/clusters” in ninth and subsequent grades.

If parents want to see their child’s plan of study or the findings of his Kansas Career Pipeline survey, they should ask the school counselor, Faflick said.

Students in prescriptive programs such as International Baccalaureate at East High or specialized programs at Northeast Magnet may not have traditional IPSes because “there really isn’t any room to wiggle, so those students take what’s required,” she said.

Some recent studies have suggested that designing an education plan around a single career goal may not be the best idea for today’s schoolchildren. Labor data suggests the average worker today stays at a job for just 4.4 years. That could mean they have as many as 11 different jobs from the time they graduate college until they retire.

Faflick said plans of study aren’t intended to limit students’ choices. If they pinpoint a potential career in eighth grade, they’re not wedded to that choice through high school, she said. Most students take an interest inventory again during their sophomore year, and counselors visit with them about career aspirations during enrollment.

“It’s not just a document; it’s a process,” Faflick said. “We don’t want to make it something that’s just a checklist, and you just throw it in a file and never look at it again.”

Contributing: Associated Press

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