Maximizing Academic Opportunities for Students in CTE Programs

Publication December 2013

In this session introduced by James R. Stone III at ACTE’s VISION 2013 convention, Tom Thompson and Kristin Gunson of the Oregon Department of Education described the Oregon Applied Academics Project. The on-going success of the NRCCTE’s Math-in-CTE model served as a catalyst for the development of this new problem-based approach to teaching high school mathematics in the state of Oregon, where more than 140 teachers in over 50 schools have been involved in Math-in-CTE since 2006. In 2007, the Oregon State Board of Education (SBE) released a decision paper that laid out the principles behind the new Oregon Diploma.  In addition to proposing increases in credit requirements for core academic content, the SBE expressed the desire to have options available so that the education a student receives will be relevant to their college and career aspirations. Although districts are given license to develop alternative approaches to address core academic content, there are still many questions about how to develop and implement applied instruction that maintains the rigor demanded in current standards.

This identified need led to the proposal of the Oregon Applied Academics project, a three-year research and development project that has created a collaborative model for developing a technical math course that meets graduation requirements and improves student performance. Development of the course was to be based on several criteria, including to be replicable; to meet high school math levels, standards, or both; to push the rigor in the math; to reinforce earlier instruction in new setting, context, or both; to be a systematic, intentional approach (not episodic); and to involve partnership with CTE. The course development was also to focus on math addressed in the Oregon Content Standards as it is applied in manufacturing-related careers. To that end, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) contracted with the NRCCTE and Lane County Education Service District to provide technical assistance and research related to the development and implementation of a technical mathematics course that could address the required third credit of mathematics.

As of the preparation of this presentation, final results from the third year of the Applied Academics project were still being analyzed, but results as of Year 2 showed a statistically significant treatment effect for student performance in the three classrooms offering the project-developed technical mathematics course. Participating teachers who took part in project-related focus groups reported enjoying the process, expressed excitement about continuing their involvement, and affirmed their support for the approach. Like the Math-in-CTE model, the Applied Academics approach fostered a growing sense of community among participating teachers. There was also evidence of growing respect among CTE and math teachers. In particular, the math teachers who volunteered for participation in the project were anxious to use its problem-based learning (PBL) approach and even thought it was exciting to have a different way to teach. Teachers also acknowledged that the PBL approach of the new course was a great benefit to their students. Although care was taken to maintain the rigor of the math, there was considerable hope on the part of the teachers that this course would help students who just do not learn well in traditional settings. There was also evidence that the problem-based approach was calling students to a level of accountability they had not experienced before. Overall, many of the principles and themes that emerged from the project echo those first recognized in the original Math-in-CTE research. Although findings are still preliminary, results suggest that (a) pairing CTE teacher partners with mathematics teachers is a non-negotiable aspect of the early stages of implementation approach, and remains important even as math teachers become more experienced and skillful with the CTE context; (b) the approach fosters the development of communities of practice among the teachers who have worked together to create the course; © although an authentic context is important to a PBL approach, math learning must remain its central feature; (d) an effective teaching model offers adaptive instruction that is both intentional and systematic, yet flexible and responsive to diverse student needs; and (e) math teachers remained math teachers, but became teachers of math in context – at times, math teachers were challenged to learn unfamiliar new material related to the CTE context, emphasizing the need to engage them with robust PD that allows for development of confidence and skill in this new approach to teaching mathematics.

Pearson, D., Thompson, T., & Gunson, K. (2013, December). Maximizing academic opportunities for students in CTE programs. Presentation made at the annual convention of the Association for Career and Technical Education, Las Vegas, NV.

Download the presentation (PDF)

Download the introduction to this presentation by Dr. James R. Stone III (PDF)