ASA Blog

WRITTEN BY: AVERY NEWTON, PH. D., EDUCATION OUTCOMES RESEARCH MANAGER | JANUARY 13, 2020

I had the honor of presenting at the annual ACTE Conference in December, and while it’s hard to summarize all the great workshops, discussions, and exhibitors in a concise blog post, here are my four top takeaways:

  1. We need more research!

Schools, research organizations and employers seem to agree: we just don’t know enough about what makes a Career and Technical Education [CTE] program effective, and what we want or expect student outcomes to look like.

At a session run by the Institute for Education Sciences [IES] at the U.S. Department of Education, presenters Marsha Silverberg and Michael Fong shared plans for a comprehensive, national evaluation strategy to measure “what works” in CTE under Perkins V.

But measuring “what works” is not possible until and unless we define what success looks like in a CTE program. For a math program, success can be as simple as higher scores on a math assessment, but for a CTE program, there are so many possible outcomes and success measures: labor market participation, high school graduation, GPA, evidence of career development, counseling participation…the list goes on. As Ms. Silverberg put it, it’s hard to distill the “sheer number of outcomes CTE is held responsible for.” And in order to study what works, we need to first be asking ourselves which outcomes we really care about.

  1. Parents support CTE in theory, but not necessarily for their own children

During a group discussion at a session hosted by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, participants from all different school and industry contexts around the country agreed that parents are largely supportive of local CTE programming and skilled trades participation, but when it comes to planning for their own families, a CTE pathway often “wasn’t the right fit.”

The group discussed a few issues. First, the common assumption that CTE and college pathways are mutually exclusive (they aren’t!). Second, the need to further engage, educate and “onboard” parents to local offerings for career education and exploration available to their child(ren).

On a side note, ASA recently conducted two research studies on attitudes toward life after high school, and we can affirm that parents would absolutely benefit from more information on CTE. We found that a lack of knowledge about and support for alternate routes may well be holding them back from advocating for anything other than a college pathway for their children.

  1. The ASVAB isn’t just for students interested in the military

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, is a timed multi-aptitude test given at military recruitment centers around the country to help determine whether individuals qualify for military service and for certain specialized occupations within the military.

The ASVAB is not limited to the military, though; it is actually available to any student in 10th through 12th grade or in a postsecondary program. Providing both aptitude and interest scores, the ASVAB is a useful tool to become “option ready” for different types of uniquely suitable career paths and the education and training options available within those paths.

The ASVAB is administered annually to about 787,000 students across nearly 14,000 high schools in the United States. The presenters, Dr. Shannon Selyer and Dr. Janet Bayer, emphasized that there is no military obligation for individuals completing the ASVAB, though a list of both civilian and military career options is provided once aptitudes and interests are calculated. As an added bonus, the assessment involves no additional cost to students or their families (beyond paying taxes!).

  1. “If you hate it, great!”

Teachers and administrators at Elmore County Schools in Alabama shared their experience with CTE programming through a weeklong summer camp. Students in the program learn about 12 different trades and have hands-on opportunities to experience each trade over a four-day, fully-funded immersive camp experience.

The presenters began the discussion by emphasizing the importance of exploration and access to on-the-job learning opportunities, but quickly added that their goal in the district is not necessarily for students to come away from camp with a chosen career path. If that happens, great!  But if the student hates something or realizes a topic or career path is not for them, that’s also great. As presenter Lindsay Jordan put it, “You have now eliminated an option detrimental to your educational pathway.”

Part of our mission at ASA is to help students make informed decisions about their education and career journeys, and sometimes being informed means learning they don’t like something. That’s OK!  It is better to know that than to never have access to a learning experience like this and feel uncertain as they look ahead to their future.

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