by Doug Rothwell, The Detroit News

The jobs that pay the most and are growing the fastest require more education and training. If we want to add these jobs and boost incomes in Michigan, we need to make sure our students are graduating with the right skills.

Unfortunately, too many of today’s Michigan learners are not ready for a career or college upon graduation. From 2005 to 2015, Michigan’s fourth grade reading performance dropped from 30th to 41th nationally. Fourth grade math performance dropped from 32nd to 42nd. Only 20 percent of our high school students are considered career- and college-ready.

The good news is that Michigan is taking important steps to set a new course. The governor and Legislature have increased investment in and access to early childhood education programs. Legislation was also recently passed to strengthen the process for evaluating teachers and school administrators.

But perhaps the most important change came in 2010, when Michigan adopted new, more rigorous standards for what Michigan students should learn in each grade level. The Michigan State Standards set high expectations for our students to ensure they graduate career- and college-ready. They prepare all students, no matter where they live, with the skills and knowledge necessary to compete anywhere in the world.

Students and teachers have been learning to work with these standards for the past several years. And now, for the first time, the state is using Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress to measure student progress and establish a new baseline for performance.

Unlike the old test, the M-STEP measures real world skills that employers are looking for, like the ability to think critically and to solve complex problems. Last spring, Michigan students took the new test for the first time.

We know from observing other states that have raised standards that the initial testing results are likely to be lower than they were with the old standards. We also know that scores in those states improved over the next few years. As Michigan students and teachers become more familiar with the new learning expectations and assessment, Michigan’s scores should improve as well.

In today’s world, the bar is continuously rising — Michigan’s students aren’t just competing against each other for jobs and economic growth, but against other states and nations. And businesses aren’t just looking for talent in their backyards – they will go wherever they need to find the talent that will help them grow. That means that in Michigan and across the globe, businesses are looking for talent that has the ability to solve problems, think critically and innovate.

As a result, our expectations must be higher and the tests more challenging. But we cannot be afraid of setting high expectations, and we can’t afford to think that what we’ve done in the past is good enough to get us to where we want to be in the future. We must raise standards to world-class levels if our kids are going to have the best opportunity to land good paying jobs here in Michigan.

Doug Rothwell is president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan.