The Advocate

High school students should be required to get workplace experience as part of Louisiana’s plan to comply with a new federal law, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber said Tuesday.

“The expectation that students will be prepared with workplace skills learned solely within an academic environment is unrealistic,” BRAC said in a four-page report.

“To truly embrace and portray the soft skills necessary for success in the workplace, students must have exposure to those skills in the environment and context in which they are used,” according to the report, which was written by BRAC staff member Liz Smith.

The state is in the process of revamping some of its public school policies to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

That measure is the successor to the No Child Left Behind law, which required states to meet certain test and other standards aimed at improving academic achievement.

Officials of the state Department of Education recently held statewide hearings on what parents, teachers and others think needs to change.

More meetings are planned with a wide range of education groups.

The state is required to submit its plan to federal officials next year, and new policies will take effect for the 2017-18 school year.

In her report, Smith said the lack of soft skills among workers is the top concern of business owners in the Baton Rouge area.

However, the state has no accountability measure linked to workplace experience for students.

The BRAC study said that could be accomplished by offering students parttime work, an internship, virtual experience or a school-based enterprise.

How students fared would then be assessed by an educator.

Schools would be rewarded based on the quality of the workplace training, with a part-time job or internship considered the “gold standard” for schools and school districts, according to the BRAC study.

Aside from the review by the state Department of Education a second ESSA study is about to be launched by a panel named by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The committee’s recommendations may conflict with the department’s plans, in part because Edwards and state Superintendent of Education John White differ on key public school issues.

The BRAC report said teacher unions hope to use the ESSA review “as an excuse to advocate for reducing state testing and eliminating school letter grades.”

Smith is director of policy and research for BRAC.