Study: States need better data to improve CTE programs

Study: States need better data to improve CTE programs

(Md.) Most state officials charged with overseeing career technical education say they are not confident about the fidelity of their data systems to support decisions related to programs and policies, according to a new study.

However, researchers at Advance CTE did find that nearly 90 percent of state CTE directors said that improving their state data system is a top priority moving forward–something that authors of the report said would be necessary to improving career education in schools.

“CTE has a unique position at the intersection of secondary and postsecondary education and the workforce,” Kimberly Green, executive director of Advance CTE, said in a statement. “It is critical for state leaders to work together to effectively use and improve their data systems to make more informed decisions about CTE program quality and equity in order to serve each learner in their community.”

As workforce demands continue to rapidly change alongside technology, policymakers throughout the country have turned in recent years to CTE and similar models such as linked learning as a viable option for developing work readiness skills and preparing future workers for jobs that require some postsecondary education but not necessarily a four-year degree.

Some states, including Wisconsin, Arkansas, Virginia and Alabama have gone so far as to adopt graduation standards that encourage or require participation in CTE.

Still, many states have found it difficult to answer even the most basic questions regarding high school-level college and career readiness programs. In California, for instance, research published last year concluded that lawmakers must establish a data system that connects K-12 schools to community colleges and four-year universities in order to improve long-term student career outcomes.

The latest report from Advance CTE uses data from a 50-state survey completed last fall by 51 State Directors representing 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia.

Researchers found that 49 percent of state directors said their CTE data system is “mostly” or “fully” aligned with secondary data systems, but only 28 percent said found their data systems aligned with postsecondary data systems, and just 18 percent reported the same with workforce data systems.

More than 60 percent of states measure career readiness through student surveys to identify whether secondary learners secure post-program employment, which authors of the report said have notoriously low response rates and are difficult to validate.

Additionally, officials reported being hesitant to use their data for high-stakes decision-making. While researchers found it was common for states to use CTE and career readiness data for low-stakes decisions such as informing technical assistance, far fewer said their data was used to influence funding or decisions to transform or phase out CTE programs.

That being said, 86 percent of state directors reported that improving and enhancing their state CTE data systems is a top priority.

Advocates for improved collection and use of education data note that doing so could likely be beneficial to students and their communities.

“With access to current, accurate, and robust data, state education and workforce agencies can support students to successfully transition out of high school, no matter what path they choose.” Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, president and CEO of the Data Quality Campaign, said in a statement. “Without these linkages, states are leaving families in the dark about whether their students will leave the K–12 system work ready.”

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