Rigorous Tests of Student Outcomes in CTE Programs of Study: Year 3 Report

Publication June 2011

This longitudinal study, currently in its fourth year, is being conducted in the context of the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins legislation (2006), which funds career and technical education (CTE) nationwide. The recent reauthorization, known as Perkins IV, modified existing practice by increasing program accountability in the areas of academic achievement, technical skills achievement, and alignment with postsecondary technical education in the form of programs of study (POS). The legislation also upheld previous emphases on serving nontraditional students and those from special populations (e.g., special education students). The Perkins mandate sets a high standard, but many states and local education agencies had already begun to develop programs to achieve these goals. This study evaluates the impact of this federally mandated education reform.

The study also addresses several of the research strands identified by the United States Department of Education (USDE), Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) as integral to the agenda of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE). First, this scientifically based study in schools implementing CTE POS seeks to identify successful methods for addressing the education and training needs of high school students, including nontraditional and special populations. We are examining the effects of POS on student outcomes compared to the traditional high school experience (i.e., “business as usual”). Second, the results of this study may be used to increase the effectiveness and improve the implementation of POS at other high schools so that they implement coherent and rigorous CTE content aligned with challenging academic standards. The study is generating important results toward this end: longitudinal student outcome information on programs of study, including academic, technical, and work readiness measures.

POS are one way to address students’ need for relevance while also providing necessary rigor in academic and technical curricula. According to the Perkins IV legislation, POS should (a) consist of rigorous academic and technical content, (b) align to postsecondary programs without duplication, © include the opportunity for postsecondary credits to be earned in high school, and (d) lead to industry-recognized credentials at the postsecondary level. States are currently developing POS in many CTE program areas.

We have used the NRCCTE’s conceptual base of student engagement, achievement, and transition to form research questions, develop instruments and measures, and judge the effectiveness of the participating POS. Student engagement is evident from students’ attendance and whether or not they stay in school—measures that are included in this study.

We also focus on student achievement by investigating whether POS, which integrate coherent and rigorous technical content with challenging state academic standards, result in improvements in the academic achievement of students. The experimental strand of this study investigates the effects of POS on academic and technical outcomes compared to control groups, which have been made up of students who applied to be in the POS but were not selected in a random assignment process. We are applying the same research questions for the quasi-experimental strand of the study, comparing outcomes in our treatment group to a well-matched comparison group. The results of this study will make an important contribution to the establishment of the efficacy of CTE programs of study.

In addition to examining high school engagement and achievement measures, this study also seeks to investigate the transition of POS students to post-program employment or postsecondary education. Our student cohort, at the time of this writing in the 11th grade, are on the cusp of making this transition at the conclusion of our four-year longitudinal study. Should funding permit, we will seek to extend the study and report on the numbers of POS students who continue their education at the articulating community college, including their first-year coursework. In addition, we anticipate that some students will transition directly to the workplace. Should an extension of the study be funded, we would report on those outcomes, especially job placement, wages, and retention after six or nine months.

Other important contributions that this study can make are in the areas of nontraditional and special populations enrollments. Perkins IV maintained the requirement that states measure student participation in and completion of CTE programs by (a) nontraditional students for that occupation and (b) special population status. We will also report on the enrollment and completion of special populations (i.e., students with disabilities, special education students, economically disadvantaged students, and/or students with limited English proficiency) in these programs. We will address whether POS, based on challenging academic standards and industry-recognized technical standards, influence participation from such populations.

Castellano, M., Sundell, K. E., Overman, L. T., & Aliaga, O. A. (2011, June). Rigorous tests of student outcomes in CTE programs of study: Year 3 report. Louisville, KY: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, University of Louisville.

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