OLYMPIA — The strategic relationship between the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and Microsoft Corp., has reached impressive milestones in only its second year, said Randy Dorn, state superintendent of public instruction.
The alliance, known as the Microsoft IT Academy, helps students attain industry recognized certification in a variety of Microsoft technologies.
In June, the 10,000th certification exam for the 2012-13 school year was passed – more than double the number of a year earlier. And in May, a student at Kalama High School placed in the top 5 of all eligible students across the United States taking the Microsoft Office 2010 Word core exam.
Certification is increasingly important to employers. A recent search of the Web site indeed.com showed more than 8,800 open positions in Washington State that require or prefer some Microsoft technology and more than 4,700 open positions seeking Microsoft Office skills.
“I’m very pleased with how the IT Academy is going,” Dorn said. “Two years ago, during one of the worst recessions in our state’s history, the state legislature agreed to help fund this program in collaboration with Microsoft. I thank them for that wise investment for our students. It has produced great results in just two years.”
The 10,000th successful exam in 2012-13 was given to Robert Verdoes, a freshman at Anacortes High School. Verdoes’s teacher, Matt Wallis, noted the popularity of the IT Academy in Anacortes. “A total of 12 students, more than 15 percent of those in the program, have stuck with the IT Academy long enough to earn their Microsoft Office Specialist Master Certification during the past four semesters,” Walls said.
In 2010-11, a year before the IT Academy launched, 443 students received Microsoft certifications. In 2011-12, the academy’s first year, 4,049 students were certified..
CCI Learning – a Microsoft Academy Service Partner specializing in education services – provides instructional materials and support for students and teachers in the IT Academy. Malcolm Knox, CCI’s president, said he is delighted by how popular the IT Academy has become among students, teachers and parents.
“The growth of the Microsoft Office Specialist certification in Washington state schools is simply astounding,” Knox said. “The appetite throughout the state to enrich the lives of students by providing convenient access to globally recognized certifications is highly admirable. Superintendent Dorn and his team at OSPI will continue to impact many more student lives with industry level certification.”
Kalama High School sophomore Morgan VanRiper said she worked every day on the certification. That diligence paid off, she said, when she got a perfect score on the 2010 Word core exam in seven minutes. Her score qualifies her for national competitions in Anaheim, Calif., and Park City, Utah, this summer.
“My teacher is the one who really encouraged me with this when she saw my skills last year,” VanRiper said. “She has continued to push me throughout this year to continually improve.”
VanRiper plans to enroll in Running Start next year and earn an associate’s degree along with her high school diploma. After that, “if I got offered a job at Certiport (which oversees the certification testing) or Microsoft, I could work there as well as finish my last two years of college” to get a bachelor’s degree, she said.
For VanRiper, the draw of certification for her and other students was financial. “I would encourage everyone to take full advantage of the IT Academy in their high school courses,” she said. “If you were to take just one certification in college, with the price of the credits, books and the certification test, this is a great opportunity for savings in high school.”
The IT Academy
The Microsoft IT Academy – launched in September 2011 across Washington state – includes training and certification in a number of Microsoft products, such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint, as well as advanced topics, including programming, Web development and database development.
As a bridge between education and work, the program supports ongoing technology education for students, teachers and other education professionals, from computer basics to high-level programming, along with information and communications technology management.
“Moving forward, we remain committed to empowering students and teachers around the world to reach their full potential,” said Alison Cunard, general manager, Microsoft Learning. “By combining education and cutting-edge technology in an effective way as the IT Academy program does, we look forward to promoting success and prosperity in an evolving global economy.”
The program provides two benefits to students: the training and the certification are both at no additional cost to students or their families, and the certification testing can now be done in a classroom at school instead of at a remote testing center. In addition, the instructional materials are mapped to industry skills requirements provided via Microsoft and are ready to use for teachers and students.
For Katherine Schmit, a business and technology instructor at Kalama High School – as well as student VanRiper’s mentor – the free resources are among the biggest draws, but not the only one. “From the programs to the curriculum, to testing, support, innovation and creative application for curriculum, there just is not a down side,” she said. “Students earn industry-level certification, testing rigor and entry-level job applicable skills.
“Teachers have been able to teach skills and achieve mastery from students for years, but we were missing the key element for industry standard: certification. And as if that were not enough, most community colleges in Washington are honoring the certificates for college credit, so parents win too. Thank you, Washington state, for making this a financial reality for our students.”
Washington was the second state in the U.S. to implement the Microsoft IT Academy program statewide. As of 2012-13, 10 other states have implemented the IT Academy statewide.