Zack Hutchins
Director of Communications

For Release — August 30, 1999


Business still worries about high school grads' preparation for work, but says standards will help—and that New York should stand by them

ALBANY—New York State employers remain concerned about high-school graduates' readiness for work but overwhelmingly agree that students returning to school in September will be better prepared for jobs and careers as a result of the state's tough new academic standards, a new survey by The Business Council shows.

The survey also showed that employers want New York to support the Board of Regents' standards unwaveringly, awarding diplomas only to students who earn them and maintaining high standards even if more students must repeat courses and use more than four years to earn diplomas. Under the standards, students graduating this coming June must score a 55 or better on the Regents' English test; similar requirements for math, social studies, and science are being phased in for subsequent years.

"Business hopes that students going back to school find this encouraging because our message is that these standards will benefit students in the long run," said Business Council President Daniel B. Walsh. "Students who test their mettle against high standards today will be more successful tomorrow. And New York's kids are up to this challenge."

There were 242 responses to the survey of Business Council members, which was conducted in July and August. Key findings of the survey include the following:

New standards will better prepare students for the work world. Nearly 85 percent of respondents either strongly agreed (43.4%) or agreed somewhat (40.9%) that New York's new academic standards will help improve students' preparation for jobs and careers. Only 7.0% disagreed somewhat, with 0.4% percent strongly disagreeing and 7.4% expressing no opinion.

Lower standards in the past effectively devalued New York's high-school diploma. More than nine of 10 respondents strongly agreed (52.1%) or agreed somewhat (38.4%) that weaker past standards resulted in many students getting diplomas but not educations. A few respondents disagreed somewhat (4.1%) or strongly disagreed (2.5%); 2.1% percent expressed no opinion.

Only students who meet the standards should receive diplomas. Eight of 10 respondents strongly agreed (52.1%) or agreed somewhat (28.5%) that diplomas should be awarded only to students who meet the new standards. Another 11.2% of respondents disagreed somewhat, with 5.4% strongly disagreeing and 2.1% expressing no opinion.

New York should stand firmly behind its new standards even if students' struggles to meet them leads to public pressure to relax the standards. More than 86 percent of respondents either strongly agreed (57.9%) or agreed somewhat (28.9%) that New York should maintain its standards even if more students must repeat courses, more diplomas are delayed, and pressure to return to lower academic standards results. Another 9.1% disagreed somewhat; 1.2% strongly disagreed, and 2.1% expressed no opinion.

Most employers agree that standards should be higher than they have been. More than nine of 10 respondents think that new standards related to communications skills should be either much higher (46.7%) or somewhat higher (44.6%) than they have been. Another 4.1% indicated that standards should be about the same. Another 0.4% of respondents said they should be much lower. Most respondents said that math skills should be either much higher (37.6%) or somewhat higher (47.1%), with 10.3% saying they should be about the same and 0.4% saying they should be somewhat lower.

And most respondents said that standards related to technical and computing skills should be either much higher (37.6%) or somewhat higher (44.2%), with another 13.6% suggesting they be about the same and another 0.4% saying they should be somewhat lower.

Employers remain concern about skills of high-school students and recent high-school graduates. Respondents rated five different skill sets for two categories of individual, high-school students/recent graduates and college students/recent grads.

Communication skills: More than 60 percent of respondents rated these individuals' writing, speaking, listening, and reading skills no better than fair (39.7%) or poor (21.9%). In contrast, 26.0% rated these individuals' skills adequate, 9.1% rated them good, and no respondents labeled them excellent. Another 2.9% offered no opinion.

Math skills: More than 55 percent of respondents rated these individuals' math skills only fair (34.7%) or poor (21.5%). Another 27.7% rated these skills adequate, with 9.9% rating them good and 0.4% rating them excellent. Another 5.4% offered no opinion.

Technical/computing skills: High-school students/recent grads were rated higher in technical and computing skills. More than six of 10 respondents called these skills adequate (28.5%), good (27.3%) or excellent (5.0%). But about one in five respondents (21.9%) rated them only fair, and 9.9% rated them poor; 7.0% offered no opinion.

Interpersonal skills: Employers strongly criticized high-school students and recent graduates' interpersonal skills (personal grooming, attendance, promptness, understanding of business, customer service). Nearly half (41.7%) rated these individuals poor in this area; another 32.6% rated them only fair. Only 16.9% rated these individuals adequate in interpersonal skills, with 5.8% rating them good and no respondents rating them excellent. Another 2.5% offered no opinion.

Understanding of business and the economy: Three-quarters of respondents said high-school students and recent graduates' understanding of business and the economy is either poor (48.8%) or fair (29.3%). Another 12.0% rated this understanding adequate. Only 3.3% of respondents rated these individuals' understanding in this area good, with no respondents rating it excellent. Another 6.2% offered no opinion.

In each of these areas, respondents consistently rated college students and recent college graduates higher than high-school students and recent

Both in mirroring concern about high-school students/graduates' preparation for work and in showing greater confidence in college students/graduates, the current survey results closely match the outcome of a similar 1998 Business Council survey on workforce development issues. In that survey, some 44 percent of responding employers rated the basic skills of newly hired high-school graduates as either "poor" or "very poor." Nearly the same percentage of all firms reported a moderate or severe gap between the newly hired workers' skills, and the employer's needs.

The Business Council is New York's largest broad-based business group, representing over 2,500 member companies large and small across the state. Based in Albany, it lobbies for a better business climate, and offers cost-cutting services to its members.

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