Leveraging Reauthorization of Career and Technical Education Legislation to Improve Program Performance

December 2018
A person holding a magnifying glass looking at a bar chart on a large clip board, there is a piechart, a checkmark and a graduation cap on the sides

Accountability provisions in the federal Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 have shaped the evolution of state performance measurement systems used to assess career and technical education (CTE) programming.

The July 2018 reauthorization of the law—retitled the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act—retained many indicators and introduced several that will affect the collection of CTE data over time. State CTE agency administrators now are working to develop statewide plans to guide implementation of the updated accountability provisions.

Reauthorization offers states an opportunity to rethink the structure of their CTE performance indicators. Accordingly, to ensure their new accountability systems produce valid, reliable and actionable data, state administrators should consider adopting the following principles to help guide their work:

Adopt an Improvement Mindset

Federal education legislation has historically penalized state agencies and local providers that fail to achieve state-established performance targets. School districts and colleges falling below state-negotiated performance thresholds are required to institute plans for corrective action, but those meeting or exceeding targets are largely ignored.

Moving toward an improvement mindset entails holding all providers accountable for making performance improvements—regardless of whether they are achieving state performance thresholds.

This shift requires a new way of thinking, one in which “good enough” does not exist. All grant recipients should be held accountable for making improvements, either overall or for underperforming programs or student groups.

Establish Data Quality Procedures

State capacity to collect valid and reliable data varies, with many states relying on school districts or colleges to identify CTE students concentrating in technical programs or submit performance data for individual indicators.

Although student privacy and technology constraints present real and ongoing challenges, states must establish procedures to ensure data quality, as well as goals for continuous improvement where existing capacity lags.

This includes issuing standardized procedures for defining CTE terminology and variables, establishing criteria for data collection, and specifying business rules for data analysis.

It’s also important to involve state data analysts, who often work in a different department, to help them build a clear understanding of CTE programs and policies.

Use Disaggregated Data to Assess Student Performance

Although federal CTE legislation has long required educators to report on student performance overall, states have not been held accountable for improving outcomes of underperforming students with differing demographic characteristics.

Disaggregating data gives educators the ability to identify and target interventions toward students who are not yet reaching statewide performance targets—including traditionally underserved students. It can also help identify underperforming programs with results that may be masked by larger ones posting higher levels.

Combined with an improvement mindset, disaggregation can be used to hold educators accountable for both identifying and taking action to improve student performance, regardless of whether statewide performance targets are met.

Track Progress Over Time

Career development is a lengthy process that begins with exploratory coursework in the middle grades, progresses through more specific skill training offered in high school and college, and terminates with individuals entering the workforce.

Assessing the performance of CTE students requires collecting a range of data over time, with metrics applied within and across education levels.

In addition, educators must have access to data after students exit programs to assess their career readiness. This includes tracking the immediate labor market experiences of program completers to assess their ability to find employment.

Although CTE educators alone cannot force the adoption of statewide education longitudinal data systems, it is imperative that states use the accountability indicators identified in the new legislation to help build the case for these systems’ continued development.

Train CTE Teachers in Data Use

School teachers and college faculty members often have limited knowledge about how to use CTE data and are unaware of research-backed strategies that can help improve instruction.

Along those lines, to support CTE educators in interpreting program data and initiating change, new approaches for delivering professional development are needed.

Moreover, rather than instituting statewide programs, states may seek to create customized solutions that build on educator-identified challenges. This does not require reinventing the wheel; many states have pioneered promising approaches for promoting improvement.

For example, Nebraska has developed the reVISION program to offer a facilitated approach to sharing CTE performance data, which engages educators in identifying solutions.