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What is the research on Career and Technical Education (CTE) for students with disabilities?

September 2019

Following an established REL Northeast & Islands research protocol, we conducted a search for recent research on CTE for students with disabilities. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed research on CTE for students with disabilities. The sources searched included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response and we offer them only for your reference. Because our search for references is based on the most commonly used resources of research, it is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Brand, B. Valent, A., & Danielson, L. (2013). Improving College and Career Readiness for Students with Disabilities. College and Career Readiness and Success Center.
    From the abstract: “This issue brief is intended to assist state policymakers in better understanding strategies to prepare students with disabilities and special needs for college and career. The brief provides context and background on the numbers of students with disabilities who are college and career ready; examines issues related to preparation and readiness for postsecondary education and careers; and includes examples of current programs and policies that help students with disabilities to successfully transition to college and career.”
  2. Cannella-Malone, H. I. & Schaefer, J. M. (2017). A Review of Research on Teaching People with Significant Disabilities Vocational Skills. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals,, 40(2), 67-78.
    From the abstract: “Although an important part of adult life, individuals with significant disabilities experience low rates of gainful employment. The purpose of this review was to summarize and analyze the literature on teaching vocational skills to individuals with significant disabilities. Sixty-two articles (with 75 experiments) included in this review were published between 1969 and 2014, and indicated that most participants were successfully taught to engage in a variety of vocational skills in a range of settings. Unfortunately, this review also determined that the research on teaching vocational skills to individuals with significant disabilities is steadily decreasing, with only 15 new studies published since 2000. Potential directions for future research will be proposed.”
  3. Newman, L. A., Marschark, M., Shaver, D. M., & Javitz, H. (2016). Course Taking Effect on Postsecondary Enrollment of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students.
    From the abstract: “Data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 were used to examine the effect of academic and career or technical education course taking in high school on deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) youth's postsecondary enrollment in 2-year, 4- year, and career or technical education (CTE) institutions. The analyses included a nationally representative cohort of 440 youth who were deaf or hard of hearing. This study examined the impact of academic course taking in high school--percentage of credits earned in academic courses and completion of algebra coursework--on the enrollment of DHH students in 2- and 4-year colleges and CTE schools, as well as the impact of CTE course taking--percentage of credits earned in CTE courses and completion of an occupationally specific course of study--on the enrollment of DHH students in 2- and 4-year colleges and CTE schools. Propensity model analyses, a quasi- experimental method, indicated that completing an algebra course in high school was a significant predictor of DHH students' future enrollment in postsecondary programs and completing a greater proportion of academic courses significantly increased the likelihood of DHH students' enrolling in 2-year and 4-year colleges and CTE programs, however, neither completing a greater proportion of CTE courses nor being a CTE concentrator in a specific occupational course of study contributed to DHH students' enrolling in postsecondary programs, including CTE programs. The results provide important implications for policy and practice. The finding that completing an algebra course was associated with a significantly greater likelihood of enrollment in CTE as well as 2- and 4-year postsecondary education programs emphasizes the generality of the gateway character of that course as demonstrated in previous studies involving the general (hearing) student population. The findings also demonstrate that the role of taking an algebra course as a predictor of postsecondary enrollment holds for DHH students as it does for hearing students, despite their generally lower prior mathematics achievement. Other research indicate that a factor in specific academic outcomes for DHH students is lack of prior preparation and content knowledge. The present findings are consistent with empirical research indicating the need for DHH students to take more, or perhaps more rigorous, courses if they are to enroll in and complete postsecondary programs. Such findings need to be considered early on during transition planning in a way that is appropriate to the DHH student's strengths and needs and points to the secondary transition planning staff both encouraging DHH students who have a goal of future postsecondary attendance to take a rigorous, academically focused high school curriculum and providing students with the supports needed to complete these courses.”
  4. Ofoegbu, N. E., & Azarmsa, R. (2010). Impact of the Special Education Vocational Education Program (VEP) on the Student Career Success. International Journal of Special Education, 25(2), 34-46.
    From the abstract: “The Vocational Education Program (VEP) was established by the special education department in the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) in an effort to assist students with disabilities to graduate from high school and be gainfully employed. This study investigated the impact of VEP on students' careers success after graduation. The participants included eighty-one graduates between 2004-2007 schools years. Manual computation and descriptive analysis using the SPSS[R] Software was used to determine the job acquisition and job retention rate of participants. Results indicated that 67% of participants in the 2004-2006 school years were able to acquire and retain employment, while 57% of graduates in 2006-2007 school year acquired a job and 53% retained their employment. The study implications indicate that there is a significant relationship between students' career success and participation in the VEP. The VEP design and method of service delivery supports the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, focusing on meeting the Individualized Transition needs of students. The data collected in this research will provide meaningful information that educators can use during transition planning and Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings. Educators can also use the information to make relational predictions about student career outcome and participation in a transition program, thereby ensuring that students are engaged in programs and activities that will best serve their needs, while recognizing and considering their individual preferences and abilities.”
  5. Shandra, C. L. & Hogan, D. P. (2008). School-to-work program participation and the post-high school employment of young adults with disabilities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 29(2), 117-130.
    From the abstract: “Previous research on the education-to-employment transition for students with disabilities has suggested that participation in school-to-work programs is positively associated with post-high school success. This article utilizes data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97) to extend these findings in several ways. First, we assess the efficacy of specific types of school-based and work- based initiatives, including job shadowing, mentoring, cooperative education, school- sponsored enterprise, technical preparation, internships, and career major. Next, we extend the usual focus on the employment outcomes of work status and financial compensation to consider job-specific information on the receipt of fringe benefits. Overall, results from longitudinal multivariate analyses suggest that transition initiatives are effective in facilitating vocational success for this population; however, different aspects of school-to-work programs are beneficial for different aspects of employment. School-based programs are positively associated with stable employment and full-time work while work-based programs most consistently increase the likelihood that youth with disabilities will be employed in jobs that provide fringe benefits. Analyses also indicate that – once individuals with disabilities are stably employed – they can be employed in "good" jobs that provide employee benefits.”


Keywords and Search Strings

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

Career and Technical Education/CTE + students + disabilities

Vocational education + students + disabilities

Occupational education + students + disabilities

Technical education + students + disabilities

School to work + students + disabilities

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and What Works Clearinghouse.

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 for last 14 years, from 2003 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 and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including WWC, ERIC, and NCEE.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types – randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order; (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc.; (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Northeast & Islands Region (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, US Virgin Islands, and Vermont), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands at Education Development Center. This memorandum was prepared by REL Northeast & Islands under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0008, administered by Education Development Center. 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.