IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Career and Technical Education Month®: Improving Outcomes for Secondary Students with Disabilities

February marks Career and Technical Education Month®, a public awareness campaign that highlights and celebrates career and technical education (CTE). CTE programs emphasize career preparation, skill trades, applied sciences, and modern technologies. CTE coursework integrates academic knowledge with post-secondary pathways and careers by directly preparing middle and high school students with coursework related to high-demand industries.

To encourage research to improve career readiness skills and transition outcomes for students with or at risk for disabilities, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) competed a special topic on Career and Technical Education for Students with Disabilities in FY 2019 and FY 2020. A previous blog post focused on the FY 2019 grant. In FY 2020, NCSER awarded two new research grants through this special topic:

CTE Teachers and Long-Term Outcomes for Students with Disabilities

The purpose of this exploratory project is to assess CTE teacher effectiveness for students with disabilities. Principal Investigator Dan Goldhaber at the University of Washington and his colleagues (co-PIs Kristian Holden and Roddy Theobold) will estimate CTE teacher effectiveness using high school attendance, GPA, persistence, and graduation probability as outcomes. They will also consider longer-term outcomes including college enrollment and employment, as well as whether CTE teacher effectiveness varies according to teacher licensure, pathway into teaching, and prior work experiences.

Supported College and Career Readiness for Secondary Students with Emotional and Behavioral Problems

In this study, Principal Investigator Lee Kern at Lehigh University and her colleagues (co-PIs Chris Liang and Jennifer Freeman) will develop and pilot test a multi-component program, Supported College and Career Readiness, that augments typical school-based college and career readiness activities (such as those associated with CTE). The research team aims to further support high school age students with or at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD), whom research suggests are insufficiently benefiting from college and career readiness activities. As a result, students with or at risk for EBD are frequently unprepared for career or postsecondary education pathways.

We asked each Principal Investigator to share the motivation for studying this research topic and what makes their study unique and impactful.

What inspired you to study this research topic?

Photo of Dan GoldhaberDr. Goldhaber: At CALDER, we have contributed to a large body of research on the impacts of math and ELA teachers on students. This body of evidence suggests that the quality of the teacher workforce is the most important schooling factor influencing students test and non-test outcomes. But we were surprised to find that, despite growing interest in CTE, there is a surprising lack of empirical research on CTE teacher contributions to student learning. We think this is a particularly important issue for students with disabilities for two reasons. First, CTE teachers have different pathways to teaching than academic teachers, and these pathways may provide less pedagogical preparation for the unique needs of students with disabilities. And second, students with disabilities are significantly more likely to be enrolled in these courses relative to students without disabilities. As such, this project lies at the intersection of our prior work on academic teachers, and our recent work on CTE participation for students with disabilities.

Photo of Lee Kern

Dr. Kern: Spending time with high school age students with emotional and behavioral problems brought me to truly understand how little they consider their futures. And, even when they have goals and dreams, they see scarce connections between what they are being asked to do in high school and realizing their goals. It occurred to me that finding ways to strengthen this connection might be an avenue not only to better prepare students for post-high school life, but also to reduce dropout. Indeed, the need to better prepare youth for life after high school has been increasingly embraced, especially in the last decade, evidenced in part by the adoption of career and college readiness (CCR) standards in almost every U.S. state. I witnessed many impressive CCR efforts and programs in high schools, yet it appeared that students with emotional and behavioral problems were failing to access these school-based CCR supports, some of which did not seem well aligned with their needs. With support from a Lehigh University faculty grant, I began to research exactly how this subset of students regarded, accessed, and benefitted from CCR activities and supports. This research underscored the need to supplement important components of CCR to better align with the needs of students with emotional and behavioral problems. Our goal in the current project is to develop and evaluate an intervention package that supplements high school CCR activities to better prepare students with emotional and behavioral problems for community, college, and/or career.

What makes your project unique and exciting? 

Dr. Goldhaber: This project will use unique data from Washington state that allows us to track students with disabilities in high school, postsecondary education, and employment. Access to long-term outcomes is both unique and important given that test scores are not likely to be a very good measure of the contributions that CTE teachers make toward student education. Our project is also closely focused on CTE workforce issues. The staffing of CTE courses is quite challenging—in Washington state, for instance, over half of all CTE teachers have not completed the state’s teacher licensure requirements and hold limited CTE licenses. Thus, we believe the work will garner a lot of attention from policymakers.

Dr. Kern: I am especially enthusiastic about this project because it targets areas in which empirical research tells us that students with emotional and behavioral problems have insufficient CCR skills, perceptions, and knowledge. I am also fortunate to work with my co-PIs, Drs. Freeman and Liang, who bring diverse and unique expertise in the areas of CCR assessment, CCR counseling, racial/ethnic identity development, and more. I am also optimistic about the feasibility of this project because it capitalizes on existing school resources in the form of school-based CCR programs. So, rather than adding programs or interventions, it adapts and expands existing CCR components.

Tell us how your research results could possibly shape CTE-related policy.

Dr. Goldhaber: In broad terms, we do not know much about the impact of CTE teacher quality, so our study has the potential to inform broadly the myriad ways we think about the heterogeneity of CTE teacher effects. But, more specifically and narrowly, we will be looking at the connections between CTE effects and CTE teacher pathways, which should inform policies and practices around CTE preparation and licensure.

Dr. Kern: We hope that our efforts will shape future CCR policy. Our aim is to build the evidence-base in the area of CCR supports that address the needs of students at risk for emotional and behavioral problems. Ultimately, we would like to see federal policies that guarantee at-risk students in all high schools in the U.S. receive comprehensive, evidence-based CCR interventions and supports that fully prepare them for life after high school.

For more information on CTE and students with disabilities, the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) and the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) provide useful resources. In addition, ACTE, NTACT, and Penn State University’s Workforce Education program hosted a five-part webinar series in 2019 about programs, practices, and partnerships that support students with disabilities in CTE. This series can be viewed here.

This blog was authored by Alice Bravo (University of Washington), IES intern through the Virtual Student Federal Service, and Akilah Nelson, Program Officer at NCSER. For more information about the Career and Technical Education for Students with Disabilities topic area, contact Akilah Nelson.

The views expressed by the investigators do not necessarily reflect those of IES.

New Project Exploring Adult Basic Skills in STEM-Related Postsecondary CTE®

In celebration of CTE® (career and technical education) month, we would like to highlight the launch of an NCER project that aims to help us understand how to best support adults seeking additional CTE education and training.

Through their exploratory project, Literacy, Numeracy, and Problem-Solving Skills in Technology-Rich Environment in the STEM-Related Subbaccalaureate Programs in the United States, researchers will use a mixed-method design to gather information about the distribution of basic skills (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving) for adults in STEM occupations and students enrolled in STEM-related sub-baccalaureate programs at community colleges. Their goal is to help identify the needs of students and the programming practices at community colleges that may promote basic skill development in STEM programs.

The team will be leveraging data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) to survey the distribution of skills and abilities across a nationally representative sample of adults in STEM fields. They will also be collecting primary data from adults and programs in multiple locations, including Indiana, Ohio, and Washington states.

 

 

To help inform the public about their project, the researchers have created a short YouTube video for the public. This project began in July 2020 and may have initial results ready as early as late 2021.

 


Written by Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), Program Officer for Postsecondary and Adult Education, NCER.

Facilitating Causal Research in CTE: Notes from the Network

The Career and Technical Education (CTE) Research Network just entered its third year, and it is time to share recent accomplishments with the IES community! As a reminder, the CTE Research Network (led by the American Institutes for Research, or AIR) was created to expand the evidence base on the impact of CTE programs on student outcomes using causal research methods.

 

Research

In June 2020, AIR released a preliminary report of CTE sites that are ready for causal evaluation. Designed to support researchers interested in studying the impact of CTE on student outcomes, the report details the history, theory of change, student enrollments, and other information for 4 selected CTE sites around the country. The Network hopes that researchers will use the information in the report to design evaluation studies of these programs.

In July 2020, a fifth research project joined the network. A team from MDRC, led by Rachel Rosen, was recently funded by IES to study the Impact of Technology-Based Career Advising Tools on High School Students' CTE Choices and Academic Performance. In partnership with Communities in Schools (CIS), the study will use a three-arm, school-level random assignment research design (RCT) to assess the effects of Navience and YouScience on students' self-expressed attitude and interest in career pathways, CTE course taking patterns, and engagement with and progress towards graduation. We welcome the team to the Network and look forward to learning whether and how these advising tools influence student thinking about career options, choice of relevant CTE coursework and work-based learning options, and decisions about CTE concentration in available pathways and programs of study.

A small group of researchers from different Network teams collaborated on and recently released a technical working paper on counterfactuals in CTE. It can be challenging to identify comparison groups for CTE students because it is an elective into which they self-select. The paper describes a variety of rigorous methods of comparing CTE students to valid counterparts and provides case studies that illustrate how to use these methods.

 

Training

The CTE Research Network is committed to increasing the number of researchers trained to study CTE using causal methods. It is notoriously challenging to isolate the effects of CTE from other influences on student outcomes. In August 2020, the Network hosted 18 researchers for a week-long virtual summer training institute on how to design a causal study to examine the impact of CTE. During the week, participants learned how to implement randomized-control trials (RCTs), regression discontinuity designs (RDDs), and comparative interrupted time series (CITS) in a CTE context. After learning about each method, participants worked in small groups to apply the method to real data and had access to the instructors to ask questions. The feedback about the training was overwhelmingly positive. The lecture portions of the training will be posted soon to the training page of the Network’s website. Another week-long training institute will be held in summer 2021 (hopefully, in person!)

The Network is currently developing a series of online modules for CTE practitioners and state agency staff to strengthen capacity to access, conduct, understand, and use CTE research. There will be a presentation to preview the modules at the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE) Best Practices and Innovations Conference on October 9, 2020 and a longer and more in-depth session at ACTE’s Career Tech VISION conference the first week of December. These practitioner training modules will be available for free on the website in late Fall 2020.

 

Leadership and Dissemination

The CTE Research Network is regularly updating its resources page with publications of interest to the CTE research field. The most recent is a report of findings from MDRC’s study of P-Tech high schools. The Network’s equity workgroup (a group of researchers from across the Network’s member projects) also published a popular blog this summer on applying an equity lens to CTE research. The Network also posts outside resources such as a REL self-study tool on career readiness and evaluation reports from other researchers.

 


For more about the CTE Research Network, you can sign up to receive the Network’s quarterly newsletter at the bottom of their website’s home page and follow them on Twitter (@CTEResNetwork) and LinkedIn.

If you are interested in learning more about the CTE Research Network, contact the Director, Kathy Hughes (khughes@air.org).

If you are interested in discussing CTE research opportunities at IES, contact Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov).

Cost Analysis in Practice (CAP) Project Provides Guidance and Assistance

In 2020, as part of a wider IES investment in resources around cost, IES funded the Cost Analysis in Practice (CAP) Project, a 3-year initiative to support researchers and practitioners who are planning or conducting a cost analysis of educational programs and practices. The CAP Project Help Desk provides free on-demand tools, guidance, and technical assistance, such as support with a cost analysis plan for a grant proposal. After inquiries are submitted to the Help Desk, a member of the CAP Project Team reaches out within two business days. Below is a list of resources that you can access to get more information about cost analysis.

 

STAGES FOR CONDUCTING A COST ANALYSIS

 

CAP Project Resources

Cost Analysis Standards and Guidelines 1.0: Practical guidelines for designing and executing cost analyses of educational programs.

IES 2021 RFAs Cost Analysis Requirements: Chart summarizing the CAP Project’s interpretation of the IES 2021 RFAs cost analysis requirements.

Cost Analysis Plan Checklist: Checklist for comprehensive cost analysis plans of educational programs and interventions.

Introduction to Cost Analysis: Video (17 mins).

 

General Cost Analysis Resources

The Critical Importance of Costs for Education Decisions: Background on cost analysis methods and applications.

Cost Analysis: A Starter Kit: An introduction to cost analysis concepts and steps.

CostOut®: Free IES-funded software to facilitate calculation of costs once you have your ingredients list, includes database of prices.

DecisionMaker®: Free software to facilitate evidence-based decision- making using a cost-utility framework.

Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of Early Reading Programs: A Demonstration With Recommendations for Future Research: Open access journal article.

 

*More resources available here.


The content for this blog has been adapted from the Cost Analysis in Practice Project informational flyer (CAP Project, 2020) provided by the CAP Project Team. To contact the CAP Help Desk for assistance, please go to https://capproject.org/. You can also find them on Twitter @The_CAP_Project.

CTE Research Network Identifies Four Sites Ready to be Evaluated

In 2018, the IES awarded a grant1 to the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to lead a research network focused on career and technical education (CTE), the Expanding the Evidence Base for Career and Technical Education Network (CTE Research Network). The mission of the CTE Research Network is to increase the number of CTE impact studies and strengthen the capacity of the field to conduct and use rigorous CTE research.

One of AIR’s primary tasks as the CTE Network’s Lead is to conduct an evaluability study (also called a feasibility study) to identify CTE models or programs that could be evaluated using a rigorous experimental design. The purpose of the study is to ease the way for other researchers to evaluate CTE by doing the advance work to find suitable sites that may be interested in participating in research. Any interested research team may approach one of these sites to partner in an evaluation. IES and AIR hope that qualified teams will submit an application to the IES Education Research Grants program, under the CTE topic, for grant funding to conduct an evaluation.

In a preliminary report released today, the CTE Network Lead describes the method they used to identify a broad range of programs and models, the vetting criteria, and the reasons for selecting the four sites. For each of the selected sites, the report also describes the scope of the program and student enrollment, the CTE programs offered, the data available, and the willingness of the sites to welcome researchers to evaluate the CTE program. In addition, the report includes the suggested next steps for researchers and possible limitations in carrying out an evaluation of the particular site or program model.

Prior research on CTE over the last half century has mostly been exploratory in nature or, at best, quasi-experimental. One of the primary reasons for the lack of experimental research is that it is difficult to assign students to elective courses. Even quasi-experimental designs are challenging, as it is difficult to statistically control for all the reasons a student might choose to enroll in CTE. See here and here for further discussion of the challenges in conducting CTE research.

The CTE Research Network has another upcoming effort to help increase the CTE evidence base: a free training on causal methods for CTE research. The training will take place online in August 2020; the deadline for applications is June 30, 2020.

News about the CTE Research Network and resources to help CTE researchers can be found on the Network’s website; IES also occasionally blogs about the research findings of Network members. Although most of the CTE Network members are currently studying CTE at the secondary level, we hope that more research will be conducted at the postsecondary level. Researchers interested in applying to IES for a grant to study CTE are welcome to contact Corinne Alfeld (contact information below).


1Using Perkins funds from the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) in partial fulfillment of the legislative requirement for a national research center to carry out scientifically-based research and evaluation for the purpose of developing, improving, and identifying the most successful methods for addressing the education, employment, and training needs of career and technical education (CTE) participants in CTE programs [Sec. 114(d)(4)].

 

Written by Corinne Alfeld (corinne.alfeld@ed.org), IES program officer, and Katherine Hughes (khughes@air.org), principal investigator for the CTE Network Lead at AIR