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#AskExcelinEd: What steps can states take to ensure their CTE courses are high quality?

• Danielle Mezera, Ph.D.

For our next #CTEMonth installment, Danielle Mezera, coauthor of Putting CTE to Work for Students, explains high-quality course standards and why they are essential in a successful CTE program.

Strengthening state Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs does not have to involve major legislative changes or depend on federal action, such as reauthorization of the Perkins Act. States can immediately begin a path to improvement by taking a closer look at their existing course offerings and modifying them as needed to achieve a high-quality CTE program. By high-quality, we mean in terms of rigorous technical and academic skills preparation. One critical step in this process includes revising and updating CTE course standards.

To be considered high quality, course standards will reflect essential technical and employability skills specific to the course or pathway. They must also provide critical academic skills such as reading comprehension, mathematical reasoning, technical writing and scientific analysis. This integrative approach reinforces what students are learning in a more traditional classroom setting, achieved through practical, hands-on experiences in CTE courses.

Here are some things a state may consider doing when evaluating their existing standards:

  • Confirm CTE course standards and sequencing are correct for the targeted occupation, leading students toward a successful career pathway.
  • Ensure existing standards express clearly and accurately the integrative learning and skills that students must master and build upon as they progress through their chosen program of study.
  • Engage industry and postsecondary partners throughout the entire review and validation process.
  • Seek academic and technical content-area specialists to help reframe CTE course standards to reflect the integrative learning approach.
  • Eliminate course standards that are vague, minimal or outdated.
  • Adopt a regular, preferably annual, review cycle to ensure courses and course standards remain relevant and robust.

Involving partners and content-area specialists cannot be overlooked in this process. These experts will help ensure course standards are rigorous and aligned, delivering to students the progressive skills they must develop and master to be successful in their careers.

By carrying out a comprehensive review and revitalization of CTE course standards, states can better ensure that learning conditions are robust and relevant. Be sure to check out Putting CTE to Work for Students: A Playbook for State Policymakers for more on strengthening state CTE programs.

About the author

Danielle Mezera, Ph.D.

Danielle Mezera is a Senior Policy Fellow for ExcelinEd focusing on innovation policies. Dr. Mezera is also principal consultant with DCM Consulting where she regularly works with clients at the national, state and local levels on career and technical education (CTE) and on K-16 education-to-career learning models. She previously served five years as the Assistant Commissioner for College, Career and Technical Education with the Tennessee Department of Education and led a systemwide overhaul of the state’s CTE program to develop and implement rigorous, aligned programs of study. Dr. Mezera also served five years as Director of Children and Youth with Nashville’s Office of the Mayor and Tennessee’s Davidson County. Before entering public service, she served as a director at the Vanderbilt University Institute for Public Policy Studies. Dr. Mezera holds a Master of Education degree and Doctor of Philosophy in education.