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A test that can see a child's future?

Some get it right, but others get it wrong, choosing a career that doesn't suit them or that holds little promise, wasting time and tuition in the process.

Maybe that's just life, but since at least World War II researchers have been honing methods to sift born pilots from natural airplane mechanics. The tests and counseling can be expensive, and many teens aren't interested anyway, so the information isn't often tapped.

A new company thinks it has a product to address this, with an online, game-like test that seeks to beguile teens while giving them affordable access to tailored career reports. A lot more Georgia students may soon get introduced to that company.

YouScience has been operating in 51 Georgia high schools as part of a pilot project, and now a state agency says it had a positive impact.

The state committed $120,000 for access for 20,000 students. It’ll probably take a decade or more for the test takers to figure out whether the recommendations were a true fit, but surveys of 3,068 of them indicate that the tool did at least broaden their horizons and get them thinking about different career paths.

The students, especially girls and those from low-income households, “express relatively small, yet meaningful, attitudinal gains,” says the July report from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, which was tasked with overseeing implementation.

Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, has been promoting YouScience since seeing its product at work in the Marietta City Schools. It gives kids information about themselves and the world that could save them time and money on “educational misfires” after high school, he said. “I’m sold on the concept.”

Tippins is the chairman of the Georgia Senate Education & Youth Committee, and said he’ll encourage broader access to the program during the state appropriations process. He doesn’t intend to make schools use it, but, he said, “I’d like to see the state make funds available to those schools that want to use it.”

Tippins has had a personal interest in the issue since a family member with a child on the way and years of experience in a career decided it was time for a change. The senator had heard of a counseling service and sent the family member for testing. He paid $700 for the results, which indicated that the proposed new field was a poor match. The family member abandoned the career change, and the senator figures that saved countless dollars in retraining and lost work time for a move that, according to the data, had little chance of success.

There are practical limits to products like this. For instance, anyone with the aptitude and interest in piloting the first ship to Mars will find no advice about becoming an astronaut. There are only 500 or so careers in the YouScience catalog, which taps into the U.S. Department of Labor's O*NET database. There have been too few astronauts to know what makes a good one.

The next Alan Shepard or Sally Ride may take the test and get a recommendation to become a commercial pilot or an aerospace engineer, though, and an astute counselor might see what that could mean.

That's why implementing something like YouScience with fidelity will cost more.

Experts say these tests should be interpreted with the help of a professional counselor, and that is what the Governor's Office of Student Achievement is recommending. But Georgia's school counselors are already swamped with more work than they can handle and many lack training in career advisement, according to a state House of Representatives study committee that looked at the issue last year.

"We do have a dire need for counselors," Tippins said. But, he noted, YouScience is charging less than $10 per student. That's far less than he paid when a family member needed advice on a decision with life-changing import, and he thinks the results from YouScience will be nearly as helpful, especially for kids who otherwise would get no information about how they might fit into the job market.

Read more about the YouScience program here and about the history of the science behind it here.

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About the Author

Ty Tagami writes about K-12 education, focusing on statewide issues.