closely with students. "The time savings for counselors translates into more enthusiasm and motivation for students during the process," Finley said. "Counselors now have the opportunity to answer questions more completely and can spend more one-on-one time with students."

Risk Reducer

Some teachers say career-guidance software is helping students become more focused, encouraging them to stick to their goals and pushing them to get better grades. "Once students have a direction and are aware of the steps necessary to reach their goals, we see them become really motivated," said Carl Cortezzo, career educator at Phillipsburg High School in Phillipsburg, N.J. "That goal orientation translates into higher grades."

Teachers and counselors at Phillipsburg High are using a program made by Educational Testing Services called SIGI Plus, which takes students through a self-assessment phase that helps them define their work-related values, interests and skills. Students then explore occupations that fit their personal profile. As they narrow the list to occupations of interest, they access the programs' extensive database to find more in-depth information. They then set a career goal and plan the steps necessary to reach that goal.

"For students who are at risk of dropping out of school, having a goal and a career plan can make the difference of whether or not they stay in school and complete their education," Cortezzo said.

New Jersey's Vineland School District is also using SIGI Plus to help students become more critical players in their career decision-making. "Our goal is to develop more reflective students who will make career choices that are realistic and based on their work-related values, interests and abilities," Keenan said.

Vineland has taken several additional steps to help ensure their schools implement the SIGI Plus program effectively. A district-wide intranet is now in place, and within a year access to the program will be available from all school buildings. As the program builds, Keenan said he envisions a day when career testing and information will be cumulative for Vineland students. In that manner, a third-grader could enter interests and abilities and that information would be available to the student's future teachers. Career guidance would therefore become a multi-year process that builds and is refined over many years.

"We're going to see kids better able to [understand] themselves, their future, and the choices that are open to them," Keenan said.

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Justine Kavanaugh-Brown is editor in chief of California Computer News, a Government Technology sister publication. Email