IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

What Are we Learning about Applied STEM CTE Course-taking by Students with Disabilities?

February was National Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, which celebrates the importance of CTE and the achievements and accomplishments of CTE programs across the country. IES supports research in this area, including grants funded through the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).

Dr. Michael Gottfried at the University of California Santa Barbara was awarded a 2-year grant in 2019 from NCSER to investigate whether participating in applied STEM career and technical education (AS-CTE) courses in high school is related to pursuing and persisting in STEM majors and/or careers for students with learning disabilities (SWLDs). Although a significant number of SWLDs participate in CTE courses, little is known about the types of AS-CTE courses they take and the extent to which taking these courses is related to postsecondary and employment outcomes. This project uses data from two nationally representative, longitudinal studies, the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002) and the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:2009).

The descriptive evidence resulting from this project will have important implications for policymakers and educators about promoting SWLDs’ interests in CTE and STEM and facilitating their access to these courses. We take a moment to share our recent conversation with Dr. Gottfried to understand the importance of this project and what he is learning.

Tell us about your project and what you hope to accomplish (or why a focus on STEM and SWDs?)

Our project is investigating the pathway students take in the pursuit of and persistence in STEM majors and careers for SWLDs. SWLDs are currently underrepresented in STEM fields throughout the STEM pipeline from high school to college to career. This SWLD-STEM college and career gap will continue to persist and potentially worsen unless there are efforts to lessen this underrepresentation of SWLDs in STEM fields. To address this, our research team is exploring AS-CTE courses that SWLDs take in high school and the extent to which taking these courses promotes advancement towards postsecondary success and careers in STEM. Unlike traditional STEM courses, AS-CTE courses emphasize the application of math and science concepts directly to practical job experiences by offering “hands-on” logic and problem-solving skills. They are designed to reinforce traditional academic STEM learning and motivate students’ interests and long-term pursuits in STEM areas. Using two nationally representative samples of high school students, we are examining whether high school AS-CTE can help prepare SWLDs for college, STEM fields of study in college, and careers in STEM or with STEM applications. We hope that this project will provide new evidence for policymakers and educators that will help facilitate access to AS-CTE courses in schools in order to promote short- and long-term interest in STEM for SWLDs.

What are applied STEM career and technical education courses students with disabilities can take in high school?

AS-CTE courses encourage the alignment of applicable job-related skills with academically challenging coursework targeted to students at all ability levels. These courses fall into two of the sixteen broad CTE categories: engineering technology and information technology. Some examples of engineering courses offered in high schools include Biotechnical Engineering, Wind Energy, Laser/Fiber Optics, Aerospace Engineering, and Computer-Aided Design Software. Some examples of information technology courses are Database Management and Data Warehousing, Business Computer Applications, Web Page Design, Geospatial Technology, and Networking Systems. 

What have you learned so far about enrollment in CTE and applied CTE courses by students with disabilities and related outcomes for those students?

We are currently in the beginning stages of our project, but through our analyses thus far we have found that SWLDs are more likely to take CTE courses than the general student population but less likely than other students to enroll in AS-CTE courses. In other words, SWLDs are taking CTE courses, just not in STEM areas. We see this pattern becoming even more prominent in the recent years.

What are some of the challenges with your research?

Although using large national datasets such as ELS and HSLS provides extremely rich information and data about high school students across the nation, there are some limitations to the conclusions that we can draw when using extant longitudinal data. First, although we are able to examine AS-CTE course taking patterns for high school students, no data exist in either dataset on why students chose to take AS-CTE courses. Second, there is no detailed information available in these datasets about course content, including design, curriculum, rigor, and quality of an academic course, all of which affect student achievement. Third, the datasets identify SWLDs based on parent survey responses about whether a doctor, healthcare provider, teacher, or school official had ever told them that their student had a learning disability. There is no verification that the student has an official special education label of LD, so there may be some variability in the population of SWLDs in the datasets, which could impact what we find.

What other research is needed to improve CTE course-taking and outcomes for students with disabilities?

Our project is quantitative, which has many strengths such as identifying patterns and trends. Yet, we believe that a future qualitative project would be useful to complement the work we are doing. For instance, there are many lingering questions that we cannot address. For example, why are SWLDs taking fewer AS-CTE courses? What does SWLDs’ sense of STEM self-efficacy look like in these AS-CTE courses? What types of supports are teachers providing in these courses? These types of questions could be addressed with future qualitative research in which teachers and students can be interviewed and followed.

What other recommendations do you have to support research in this area?

For our work, we plan to address diversity within the SWLD group. For instance, we are going to explore differences by gender for SWLDs taking AS-CTE courses. We propose that future research could consider this type of heterogeneity.

Dr. Gottfried also has funding from NCER in a related project exploring whether and how AS-CTE course-taking can help prepare low-income students for college and for careers in STEM or with STEM applications.

If your state, district, or school is looking for resources for developing and improving the quality of your CTE program, the Association for Career and Technical Education has many high-quality CTE tools, including a Quality CTE Program of Study Framework. The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition also has many resources to increase engagement in CTE by students with disabilities, including the on-demand webinar, Toward Best Practices: Programs that Work, Models Toward Success. This webinar was recorded on December 19, 2019 with a panel of experts and practitioners in workforce education and CTE led by Dr. Michael Harvey, Professor of Education in the Workforce Education and Development academic program at the Pennsylvania State University. Advance CTE connects CTE leaders across states and has resources to support CTE at the state level.

This blog series was co-authored by Sarah Brasiel (Sarah.Brasiel@ed.gov) and Jacquelyn Buckley (Jacquelyn.Buckley@ed.gov) at IES and Michael Gottfried (mgottfried@education.ucsb.edu). IES began funding research grants in CTE in 2017 and established a CTE Research Network in 2018 through NCER. NCSER started funding research grants in special education in CTE in 2019. IES hopes to encourage more research on CTE in the coming years in order to increase the evidence base and guide program and policy decisions.

IES-Funded Researchers Receive Awards from the Council for Exceptional Children

In February, the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) held its annual Convention and Expo, during which scholars were recognized for their research contributions to the field. Several investigators funded through IES were among those honored by the CEC.

 

Nancy Jordan (University of Delaware) received the 2020 Kauffman-Hallahan Distinguished Researcher Award. This honor, awarded by the CEC Division for Research, recognizes individuals or research teams who have made outstanding scientific contributions in special education over the course of their careers, leading to better education or services for exceptional individuals. Dr. Jordan has been the Principal Investigator (PI) on a number of IES awards. With support from the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER), she is currently developing and testing a fraction sense intervention for middle school students with or at risk for mathematics difficulties. She also served as PI for the large-scale National Research and Development Center on Improving Mathematics Instruction for Students with Mathematics Difficulties, which conducted exploratory research on fractions and related cognitive process as well as developed interventions for fraction understanding among students with mathematics difficulties. In addition, Dr. Jordan has received funding from the National Center for Education Research (NCER), including a grant to refine and validate a number sense screener for students from prekindergarten through Grade 1 and to train postdoctoral fellows to apply cognitive science principals to crucial issues in education such as mathematics, language development, and early learning. She also co-authored a synthesis of IES-funded research focusing on mathematics learning and teaching from kindergarten through secondary school and has served as an expert panelist for the What Works Clearinghouse practice guides in mathematics.

 

Tim Lewis (University of Missouri) received the CEC J.E. Wallace Wallin Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognizes an individual who has made continued and sustained contributions to the education of children and youth with exceptionalities. Dr. Lewis is currently the PI on a NCSER-funded grant to evaluate the efficacy of Check-in/Check-out for improving social, emotional, and academic behavior of elementary school students at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders, as well as co-PI on a project to further develop and refine the Resilience Education Program, a tier 2 intervention for elementary students at risk for internalizing problems. He also served as co-PI on the large-scale National Research and Development Center on Serious Behavior Disorders at the Secondary Level, focused on developing and evaluating the efficacy of a package of intervention strategies designed to reduce the significant behavioral and academic challenges experienced by high school students with behavior disorders.

 

Sara McDaniel (University of Alabama) received the 2020 Distinguished Early Career Research Award from CEC’s Division for Research. This award recognizes individuals who have made outstanding scientific contributions in basic and/or applied special education research within the first 10 years after receiving a doctoral degree. Dr. McDaniel is a co-Investigator on a NCSER supported grant to develop and test Racial equity Assessment of data, Cultural adaptation, and Training (ReACT), a professional development intervention aimed at reducing racial/ethnic disproportionality in school discipline and special education referrals.

 

Congratulations to the winners!

Taking Education Research Out of the Lab and Into the Real World

The Institute of Education Sciences is committed to supporting research that develops and tests solutions to the challenges facing education in the United States and working to share the results of that research with a broad audience of policymakers and practitioners. In this blog post, Katherine Pears (pictured right), a principal investigator from the Oregon Social Learning Center, shares how an IES-funded grant supported not only the development and testing of an intervention, but its implementation in classrooms.

Sometimes when I tell people that I am a research scientist, they say "Ok, but what do you do?" What they are really asking is whether the work I am doing is helping students and families in actual schools and community. It’s a good question and the short answer is “Yes!” but moving programs from the research lab to children, families and schools takes time and funding. Here is how it worked with my program.

I wanted to help children at risk for school failure to start kindergarten with skills to help them to do better. I teamed up with Dr. Phil Fisher and others, and we built on years of research and program development at the Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC) to create a program called Kids in Transition to School (KITS). This is a summer program that continues into the first few weeks of school and focuses not only on letters and numbers, but also on teaching children how to get along with others and how to learn (such as focusing their attention). We also train the KITS teachers to use positive teaching strategies and help parents learn the same techniques to increase the chances that children will succeed.

However, before a school will put a program like KITS in place, they need to have some proof that it will actually work. That is why we sought external funding to evaluate the program.  With funding from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), as well as the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), we were able to test KITS with three different groups of children at high risk for difficulties in school: children in foster care, children with developmental disabilities and behavior problems, and children from low-income neighborhoods. 

Across these studies, KITS led to positive outcomes for children and the parents. Funding from IES helped us show that the KITS Program worked with different groups of children and that it was a good candidate for use in school settings. In many cases, this is where the process of moving programs from research to practice can get bogged down due to a gap between researchers and the people in the education systems that could use the programs. IES is strongly committed to bridging that gap by supporting partnerships between researchers and practitioners. In our IES-funded study, we partnered with two of our local school districts and United Way of Lane County (UWLC). Working with the schools and community agencies helped us to both test KITS and develop plans for how the districts could keep the program going after the funding for the research study ended.

Our partnership with UWLC also enabled us to start a new project to bring KITS to more schools. With funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) Social Innovation Fund, UWLC offered grants to education foundations in Lane County, Oregon to implement KITS in the local school districts. The Social Innovation Fund allows promising programs to be brought to scale (i.e., made available to large numbers of people) by providing funding for community agencies to start and develop plans for sustaining these programs. In 2015, the KITS Program had about 30 educators serving about 120 children and families in 6 school districts in Lane County, Oregon. By summer 2017, two years into the grant, the KITS Program had trained 125 educators to serve approximately 435 children and families in 13 school districts in the county. That’s more than a threefold increase in the number of children and families served, as well as the number of teachers trained in the KITS Program.

We will continue to work with partners to evaluate the effects of the KITS program and make it available to more school districts. However, without the funding from IES and other federal agencies, we would not have been able to both test the program and partner with schools to make KITS a part of their everyday practice.