Return to Headlines

Riverside High School Engineering Students Excel on ACT WorkKeys Exam, Breaking School Records

The engineering class at Riverside High School regularly makes news for its academic success, such as for six of its students attaining a perfect score on the ACT in 2023. Now the engineering students are making news again, this time for helping the school to break records for the ACT WorkKeys exam, which helps students qualify for the WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certification. This year, 66 students have achieved Platinum status on the exam, which is the highest available, breaking last year’s school record of 58. Two of those students were not in the engineering program, but another Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathway.

In addition, 21 students earned Gold status, and 14 students earned Silver status. Last year, 17 students earned Gold status, and 16 students earned Silver status.

Additional students are scheduled to take the test, which may bring up those numbers. 

“We keep drawing stronger and stronger students into this program every year,” said Tim Velegol, the Engineering Program Coordinator at Riverside. “The word has gotten around, and I think just the proof of how well – not only what colleges the students get into but also how well students do in college – has become a proving ground for how well students do here.”

The ACT exam, which is usually given in March, is used as a measure of a student’s readiness for college. Students’ performance on the exam is also used in school report cards, helping to determine their grades.

The ACT WorkKeys exam is a career-readiness exam that is taken by students who have committed to a CTE pathway. Engineering is one of the most popular pathways at Riverside, but there are many others. 

Priscilla Graves, the CTE Curriculum and Instructional Management Coordinator and the CTE Department Chairperson at Riverside, said that other CTE pathways at the school include:

  • Business Management

  • Sports Marketing

  • Mental Health

  • Financial Planning

  • Business Essentials

  • Entrepreneurship

  • Food and Nutrition

Of the 300 students or so who graduate each year from Riverside, Velegol said that about half of them are in one of the CTE pathways. The engineering pathway is the only program that provides an avenue for students to attend Riverside through the annual lottery. 

CTE students typically take the ACT WorkKeys exam when they have finished their pathway. The exam shows students what type of jobs they may be ready to take on. Velegol said, “Some employers would look at this test as a measurement of potential.”

The test is broken into three subsections: Applied Mathematics, Workplace Documents, and Graphic Literacy (which measures the ability to read charts for data).

Students who pass the test and earn the Career Readiness Certification are considered ready to begin work.

“That’s a little known advantage that students have as a means of leverage,” Velegol said. “That credential is a very serious thing to put in your pocket.” 

To get students ready for the exam, Velegol said that consistency is key.

“We roll out our 10-element College and Career Readiness Plans (CCRPs) starting their freshman year, and we never stop reminding them about it,” he said. 

During freshman first report card assemblies, Velegol said he talks to all the freshman engineering students about their grades and the 10 elements in their CCRPs, which includes tests like the ACT and the WorkKeys that they must prepare to take. They get continual reminders in each year of their program, as well as email reminders leading up to the test in their senior year. 

Students who do well on the test and in the program are also celebrated. They’re highlighted in a newsletter to students and families, they get individual congratulatory emails, and they are recognized with medals at a Senior Awards Ceremony that they can also wear at graduation.

“Accounting for student performance on the WorkKeys comes down to keeping it in front of students the whole time they are in high school,” Velegol said. “And that needs to be followed up by recognizing student achievement – consistently and in a timely fashion. Students (and parents) need to know it matters.”