Changing Mindsets: Using District Data to Expand Career Preparation for All Students

August 2022
person and multiple directional arrows

Accountability indicators contained within the federal Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act have a profound effect on career and technical education (CTE) programming offered within high schools and community colleges. And it’s easy to understand why.

Providers failing to achieve state-established levels of performance for CTE concentrators (those earning two or more credits in a CTE program of study) must develop and implement a site improvement plan. Continuing shortfalls in achieving performance outcomes may lead to a loss in federal funding.

One drawback of the federal indicators relates to their measurement population. By the time most high school students achieve concentrator status, they are well on their way to graduate. This means that schools don’t often know how their CTE students are faring until it’s too late. Other metrics, such as post-program placement, aren’t reportable until the year following students’ high school graduation.

Equally problematic is that only a small percentage of students are considered. Federal and state metrics are limited to those achieving the two-credit threshold. Consequently, even if CTE students excel, the number counted comprise only a fraction of all students.

These delays in when measurement occurs (and for whom) equates to making policy through the rearview mirror.

Shift the Strategy, Widen the Scope

If we want to expand and diversify the workforce, we need to increase the number of students taking CTE coursework and implement real-time indicators to assess their attainment.

A better measurement strategy would be to focus on enticing more students to participate in CTE programming to help them gain skills and explore their career options. This entails changing mindsets.

Simply put, we need to shift from viewing CTE as a separate program for a subset of students to a comprehensive strategy to prepare all youth for both college and careers.

Assessing CTE participation and persistence among student groups, overall and across CTE program areas, can also help us to better understand students’ interests and, where gaps occur, spur us to act more immediately. Knowing, for example, that females are less likely than males to enroll and persist in STEM coursework could signal a systemic intake issue and/or pedagogical concern.

CTE Data Delivered

At Education Northwest, we've developed district-customized tools to assess student participation and persistence in CTE programming and deliver that data into the hands of educators. If our goal is to increase the number of students entering the workforce prepared for success, then we need begin by looking at who is taking coursework and where they persist. Essentially, if the pipeline is too narrow at the outset, no amount of fixing leaky sections will increase and improve student engagement, nor will it elevate workforce strength and diversity, downstream.