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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

College and Career Readiness

January 2019


What does the research say about educational outcomes when high school students earn science credits from career and technical education courses?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on the relationship between science credits earned through career and technical education courses and student outcomes. In particular, we focused on identifying resources related to drop-out rates, graduation rates, college attendance, and academic achievement. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Bersudskaya, V., & Chen, X. (2011). Postsecondary and labor force transitions among public high school career and technical education participants (NCES 2011-234). Jessup, MD: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Career and technical education (CTE) is a significant component of high school education. For the last several decades, more than 90 percent of public high school graduates have earned at least some credits in CTE, with graduates from the class of 2005 earning an average of 4.0 CTE credits (Hudson and Laird 2009; Levesque 2003; Levesque et al. 2008; Tuma 1996). As demand for a high-skill workforce has increased, reforms have focused on changing high school CTE from an alternative to the college preparatory curriculum to an educational pathway for all students that connects high schools, colleges, and the workforce (Kazis 2005; Lekes et al. 2007; Silverberg et al. 2004). This set of Issue Tables provides information on the transition of CTE participants into postsecondary education and the labor market during the first 2 years after their high school graduation. In these tables, CTE participants are identified based on the courses they took in high school. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) classifies the courses listed in high school transcripts into various subject areas (mathematics, science, social studies, and so on) using the Secondary School Taxonomy (SST) (Bradby and Hudson 2007). The SST divides CTE into three major categories—family and consumer sciences education, general labor market preparation, and occupational education, with occupational education further divided into 21 specific occupational areas (business management, marketing, manufacturing, and so on). To ensure adequate samples for the analysis presented here, the 21 occupational program areas in the SST are aggregated into the following 12 broad areas: (1) agriculture and natural resources; (2) business; (3) communications and design; (4) computer and information sciences; (5) construction and architecture; (6) consumer and culinary services; (7) engineering technologies; (8) health sciences; (9) manufacturing; (10) marketing; (11) public services; and (12) repair and transportation. The Issue Tables focus on occupational coursetaking because this is the part of the CTE curriculum that provides students with the technical skills necessary for entering the labor market, and it is also the largest of the three CTE curricular areas. The tables include information on graduates who earned different numbers of occupational credits, and on occupational concentrators. Occupational concentrators are defined in two ways: students who earned at least 2.0 credits in any one of the 12 occupational areas listed above, and students who earned at least 3.0 credits in any one of the 12 occupational areas.”

Castellano, M., Stone, J. R., Stringfield, S., Farley, E. N., & Wayman, J. C. (2004). The effect of CTE-enhanced whole-school reform on student coursetaking and performance in English and science. Columbus, OH: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This is the 4th annual report from a 5-year longitudinal project that examines diverse and promising programs for integrating career and technical education (CTE, previously called vocational education) with whole-school reform in schools that serve predominantly disadvantaged students. Prior annual reports have reviewed the research base on the integration of CTE and whole-school reform, provided preliminary qualitative findings in areas such as leadership, and analyzed student outcome data for mathematics coursetaking and progress toward graduation. This report continues the analysis of selected measures of student progress—in this case, student coursetaking in English and science, compared to students attending demographically similar control schools that were not involved in concerted reform efforts. On measures of quantity, difficulty, and success of coursetaking, students from the schools with CTE-enhanced reforms either (a) fared better than students from control schools, or (b) were behind control-school students in the early high school years and closed this gap during the later high school years. With respect to English, students from the study schools fared better than students from the control schools. Science results were more mixed, but generally favored students from the study schools. These findings are consistent with previous reports from this project, and together provide evidence that CTE curricula can be offered successfully without sacrificing core subjects such as English and science. Results presented in this annual report are necessarily preliminary, pending final integration of the data.”

Dougherty, S. M. (2018). The effect of career and technical education on human capital accumulation: Causal evidence from Massachusetts. Education Finance and Policy, 13(2), 119–148. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Earlier work demonstrates that career and technical education (CTE) can provide long-term financial benefits to participants, yet few have explored potential academic impacts, with none in the era of high-stakes accountability. This paper investigates the causal impact of participating in a specialized high school-based CTE delivery system on high school persistence, completion, earning professional certifications, and standardized test scores, with a focus on individuals from low-income families, a group that is overrepresented in CTE and high school noncompleters. Using administrative data from Massachusetts, I combine ordinary least squares with a regression discontinuity design that capitalizes on admissions data at three schools that are oversubscribed. All estimates suggest that participation in a high-quality CTE program boosts the probability of on-time graduation from high school by 7 to 10 percentage points for higher income students, and suggestively larger effects for their lower-income peers and students on the margin of being admitted to oversubscribed schools. This work informs an understanding of the potential impact of specific CTE program participation on the accumulation of human capital even in a high-stakes policy environment. This evidence of a productive CTE model in Massachusetts may inform the current policy dialog related to improving career pathways and readiness.”

Dougherty, S. M. (2016). Career and technical education in high school: Does it improve student outcomes? Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Until the late 1990s, ‘vocational education’ in traditional trades such as carpentry, cosmetology, and auto mechanics was often the presumptive high school placement for low-performing students considered ill-suited for college. However, in the past two decades, policymakers and educators have reconsidered what is now referred to as ‘Career and Technical Education’ (CTE). Done right, secondary CTE provides preparation and skill building for careers in fields such as information technology, health services, and advanced manufacturing, in which many positions require a postsecondary education. While some high school CTE students do enter the workforce without additional training, many secondary CTE programs feed participants into professional certification or associate degree programs at two- or four-year colleges. The goal of today’s CTE is simple: to connect students with growing industries in the American economy and to give them the skills and training required for long-term success. Unfortunately, little is known about this ‘new vocationalism.’ This study uses a rich set of data from the Arkansas Research Center (ARC) to follow three cohorts—more than 100,000 students—from eighth grade, through high school, and into college and/or the workforce. It asks: (1) Which students are taking CTE courses? Which courses—and how many of them—are they taking?; (2) Does greater exposure to CTE improve education and employment outcomes (high school graduation, college enrollment, employment status, and wages)?; and (3) Does CTE ‘concentration’ (taking a sequence of three or more courses in an occupationally aligned ‘program of study’) have benefits for students? Do certain students benefit more than others? This study is focused on Arkansas for several reasons. First, it is one of just five states that link education and workforce data such that questions about the efficacy of secondary CTE can be addressed. Second, it recently overhauled state policies to improve career readiness and align CTE programs with the labor market. Third, per capita income is among the lowest in the nation, and residents stand to benefit both educationally and economically from effective CTE. While no single state is truly representative of the United States as a whole, as a racially and geographically diverse state facing a number of common economic and social challenges, Arkansas can serve as a useful (and practical) test case for examining CTE. This report is organized as follows: Section One summarizes the history of secondary CTE, and reviews the scant existing research on it. Section Two describes the present study’s data and methods, and also provides context specifically for Arkansas. Section Three presents the results, and Section Four considers the implications and offers recommendations for policymakers. The results suggest that policymakers and education leaders nationwide should invest more heavily (and strategically) in high school CTE.”

Fletcher, E. C., Jr., & Tyson, W. (2017). A longitudinal analysis of young adult pathways to STEMH occupations. Career and Technical Education Research, 42(1), 35–55. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In this study, we determined the educational pathways and key life course transitions of young adults who enter Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Health (STEMH) technician and professional jobs using the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) dataset, tracking high school students from 1997 to adulthood in 2009. Using hierarchical linear modeling (HLM), findings underscored gender, ethnic and racial background, high school achievement and career and technical education (CTE) participation, earning high school industry certifications, postsecondary enrollment (2 year and 4 year), and degree attainment as factors contributing to the attainment of STEMH technician and professional careers. In light of the findings, we recommend that strategies to broaden the participation of minorities and women in STEMH fields include strengthening high school CTE programs and emphasizing career guidance in high schools to promote career awareness as a means to attract and retain students in STEMH pathways.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Gottfried, M. A. (2015). The influence of applied STEM coursetaking on advanced mathematics and science coursetaking. The Journal of Educational Research, 108(5), 382–399. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Advanced mathematics and science course taking is critical in building the foundation for students to advance through the STEM pathway-from high school to college to career. To invigorate students’ persistence in STEM fields, high schools have been introducing applied STEM courses into the curriculum as a way to reinforce concepts learned in traditional mathematics and science classes and to motivate students’ interests in a long-term pursuit of these areas. The author examines the role of taking applied STEM courses early in high school on taking advanced mathematics and science courses later in high school. The results suggest a positive link between early applied STEM course taking and later advanced mathematics and science course taking-one that is delineated by specific type of applied STEM course and by individual-level demographic characteristics. The findings of this study thus support policymakers and practitioners’ efforts to expand the STEM curriculum beyond traditional subjects. Continuing to do so may be one way to expand the number of students persisting in STEM.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Gottfried, M. A., & Plasman, J. S. (2018). From secondary to postsecondary: Charting an engineering career and technical education pathway. Journal of Engineering Education, 107(4), 531–555. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Background/Context: As a whole, the percentage of undergraduates pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields has remained constant, a trend of particular concern in the field of engineering. One potential solution for increasing the number of students completing engineering degrees in postsecondary education (PSE), and perhaps closing the gender gap in this area as well, might be through completion of engineering career and technical education (E-CTE) coursework in high school. Purpose/Hypothesis: This study explores the following questions: What are the characteristics of students who take E-CTE in high school and the high schools offering these courses? How does E-CTE in high school connect to engineering degrees in PSE? Does any relationship observed differ by gender? Design/Method: This study utilizes the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS) to respond to these research questions. ELS provides a rich array of student and school variables including complete high school and PSE transcripts. The study uses probit regression and a random intercepts model to determine completion of the following engineering outcomes: declared engineering major, AA/AS, BA/BS, MA/MS, and PhD/Doctoral/Professional. Results: This study found that the engineering gender gap is evident in high school, that there are observed connections between E-CTE in high school and all levels of degree except for AA/AS, and that there is a clear difference across genders as women benefitted more from E-CTE in connection to completion of an engineering BA/BS than men. Conclusions: This study documents an engineering gender gap in high school and finds that participation in E-CTE can encourage completion of an engineering degree as well as potentially narrowing the engineering gender gap.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Gottfried, M. A., & Plasman, J. S. (2018). Linking the timing of career and technical education coursetaking with high school dropout and college-going behavior. American Educational Research Journal, 55(2), 325–361. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “While prior studies have examined the efficacy of career and technical education (CTE) courses on high school students’ outcomes, there is little knowledge on timing of these courses and a potential link to student outcomes. We asked if the timing of these courses predicted differences in the likelihood of dropout and on-time high school graduation as well as college-going behaviors. We found that CTE coursetaking in high school was linked to lower chances of dropout and increased chances of on-time graduation, especially when these courses were taken later in high school. Little evidence arose that CTE coursetaking boosts college-going behaviors. The implications speak to the role of timing of CTE coursetaking, specifically on end of high school outcomes.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Levesque, K., Wun, J., & Green, C. (2010). Science achievement and occupational career/technical education coursetaking in high school: The Class of 2005 (NCES 2010-021). Jessup, MD: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The definition of CTE (career/technical education) used by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) includes, at the high school level, family and consumer sciences education, general labor market preparation, and occupational education (Bradby and Hoachlander 1999; Bradby and Hudson 2007). Most researchers focus on occupational education courses (including courses in agriculture, business, and health sciences, among other fields) when examining the relationship between CTE and key outcomes (Silverberg et al. 2004). This emphasis reflects the fact that occupational courses represent the majority of CTE coursetaking (Levesque 2003b; Levesque et al. 2008; Hudson and Laird 2009) and studies suggest this is the part of the CTE curriculum most strongly related to employment and earnings outcomes, which are the ultimate goals of CTE (Boesel et al. 1994; Bishop and Mane 2004). This Statistics in Brief also focuses on students who participate in occupational education, comparing the science coursetaking and achievement of public high school graduates of the class of 2005 who concentrated in occupational education with graduates who did not. While the Brief includes a comparison between occupational concentrators overall and nonconcentrators, the primary focus here is on comparing concentrators in 13 different occupational program areas with nonconcentrators. This Brief provides new information on the academic achievement of CTE participants by focusing on science achievement and describing this achievement for CTE concentrators in different occupational programs. The Brief also examines the science achievement of CTE participants who earned similar numbers of science credits, and looks at how the level and types of science courses taken differ among participants. These analyses are useful because previous studies have found that achievement gaps may be linked to the differing levels and types of academic coursework that students take (Plank 2001; Levesque 2003b; Silverberg et al. 2004), and because academic coursetaking is relatively amenable to policy action. Although this Brief cannot examine the causal impact of coursework on achievement, the analysis shows the varying relationships between science coursework and achievement for concentrators in different occupational programs and suggests areas for further research. The reader is cautioned that many additional factors—such as students’ prior academic achievement, aptitudes, and interests, and varying curricular and teaching quality—can influence science achievement. This Brief does not examine the effects of such factors on student achievement.”

Neild, R. C., Boccanfuso, C., & Byrnes, V. (2015). Academic impacts of career and technical schools. Career and Technical Education Research, 40(1), 28–47. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This study presents findings from three cohorts of students—the classes of 2003, 2004, and 2005, in the School District of Philadelphia—that were admitted to the district’s career and technical education (CTE) schools through a randomized lottery process. This study takes advantage of this so-called ‘‘natural experiment’ to compare high school academic outcomes for’ lottery applicants who were admitted with those for students who did not receive an acceptance. Results find that CTE students had significantly better outcomes in terms of graduation rates, credit accumulation, and the successful completion of the college preparatory mathematics sequence algebra 1, algebra 2, and geometry. Results for other outcomes such as the completion of science and foreign language course sequences, overall grade point average, and mathematics and reading comprehension achievement, were inconsistent across cohorts and statistical tests, neither favoring nor against students accepted to CTE schools.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Park, T., Pearson, D., & Richardson, G. B. (2017). Curriculum integration: Helping career and technical education students truly develop college and career readiness. Peabody Journal of Education, 92(2), 192–208. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “All students need to learn how to read, write, solve mathematics problems, and understand and apply scientific principles to succeed in college and/or careers. The challenges posed by entry-level career fields are no less daunting than those posed by college-level study. Thus, career and technical education students must learn effective math, literacy, and scientific concepts and processes. The National Center for Career and Technical Education Research completed three separate experimental design studies about the integration of math, literacy, and science in CTE courses. Across the studies, integration of core academics in CTE courses improved students’ academic achievement as measured by standardized assessments.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Pearson, D., Young, R. B., & Richardson, G. B. (2013). Exploring the technical expression of academic knowledge: The Science-in-CTE pilot study. Journal of Agricultural Education, 54(4), 162–179. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The Science-in-CTE pilot study tested a curriculum integration model that enhanced the science that occurs in CTE curricula. The study replicated the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education’s (NRCCTE) Math-in-CTE experimental research design (Stone, Alfeld, & Pearson, 2008) with applied science in secondary agricultural education. The semester-length study was conducted in North Dakota with secondary agricultural educators who were randomly selected to participate in the experimental and control groups. The experimental treatment mirrored the Math-in-CTE model of extended professional development, partnering experimental CTE group teachers with science educators, and use of a 7-element pedagogic framework. Standardized measures of science achievement were administered to students to determine the impact of the treatment on their science knowledge and skills. The results of hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) analysis indicated that the intervention had a statistically significant positive impact on posttest science achievement for students in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quartiles on pretest science achievement. We interpreted the intervention’s effects as small for participants in the 2nd quartile and as moderate for those in the 3rd and 4th quartiles. Relative to the control group, the intervention appeared to have no impact on students in the 1st quartile on pretest science achievement.”

Plasman, J. S., & Gottfried, M. A. (2018). Applied STEM coursework, high school dropout rates, and students with learning disabilities. Educational Policy, 32(5), 664–696. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Applied science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) coursetaking is becoming more commonplace in traditional high school settings to help students reinforce their learning in academic STEM courses. Throughout U.S. educational history, vocational education has been a consistent focus for schools to keep students on the school-to-career pathway. However, very few studies have examined the role of applied STEM coursetaking in improving schooling outcomes for students with learning disabilities. This is a major missing link as students with learning disabilities tend to exhibit much higher dropout rates than students from the general population. This study examines mechanisms displayed through applied STEM courses and the role they play in helping students with learning disabilities complete high school and transition into college. Using a nationally representative data set of high school students and their full transcripts (i.e., Education Longitudinal Study of 2002), we found that students with learning disabilities who took applied STEM courses significantly increased their educational outcomes in the following ways: lowered chances of dropout, increased math test scores, and increased enrollment in postsecondary education. While the general student population also benefited by taking applied STEM courses, the advantages were greater for those students with learning disabilities.”

Sublett, C., & Plasman, J. S. (2017). How does applied STEM coursework relate to mathematics and science self-efficacy among high school students? Evidence from a national sample. Journal of Career and Technical Education, 32(1), 29–50. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Over the past decade, CTE has been highlighted as a means of promoting college and career readiness for high school students. Applied STEM coursework is a promising area of high school study that has particular relevance in the technologically progressive world of today. Previous research has illustrated that applied STEM coursework in high school is associated with a number of positive educational outcomes. Importantly, no previous empirical investigation has examined the relationship between applied STEM coursework and students’ reported levels of math and science self-efficacy, two important harbingers of academic ability and success. Consequently, the current study used nationally representative data to explore applied STEM coursework participation and self-efficacy. Results indicated that applied STEM coursework was predictive of increases in both math and science self-efficacy, except among females and students with disabilities (SWDs). Implications for policy are discussed.”

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service. (2014). National assessment of career and technical education: Final report to Congress. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

From the description: “Perkins IV requires the Department of Education to conduct an independent national assessment of career and technical education (NACTE) and to appoint an independent advisory panel to advise the department on the assessment. The overall objectives of the assessment are to:

  • Examine the implementation of career and technical education (CTE) across the nation;
  • Assess the impact of changes made under the Perkins IV; and
  • Evaluate the outcomes of students who enroll in CTE programs.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “Career and Technical Education” sciences

  • CTE certificate

  • high school course-taking AND sciences

  • “industry certification” sciences

  • Industry-Based certificate

  • “vocational certificate”

  • “vocational education” sciences “career readiness”

  • “vocational education” sciences “college readiness”

  • “vocational education” sciences “academic achievement”

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2004 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-;experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.