Skip Navigation
Stay Up-to-Date:
Skip Navigation

Seeking alternative career readiness options for Texas high school graduates

school bus at a cross road

By Susan Burkhauser | April 8, 2021

Texas Education Agency leaders asked REL Southwest to partner on a recently completed study, Alternative career readiness measures for small and rural districts in Texas. The study’s principal investigator, Susan Burkhauser, Ph.D., provides this blog. Dr. Burkhauser is a researcher at the American Institutes for Research. Her research focuses on college and career readiness and postsecondary education.


A new REL Southwest study will inform the Texas Commissioner of Education in making recommendations to the state Legislature for alternative career readiness options for high school graduates. A comprehensive reform of the state’s school finance system, Texas House Bill 3, passed in 2019. The bill established a college, career, and military readiness (CCMR) outcomes bonus, which provides extra funding to Texas districts for each annual graduate demonstrating college, career, or military readiness under the state accountability system.1 High school graduates demonstrate career readiness by earning an industry-based certification (or a Level I or Level II certificate), and the expected pathway to earning these credentials is through career and technical education (CTE) programs. However, local capacity and funding issues in small or rural districts can limit actions such as teacher recruitment, creating obstacles to implementing CTE programs that lead to recognized postsecondary credentials.2

The provisions of House Bill 3 included a requirement that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) conduct a study to determine whether graduates from small districts and rural districts can demonstrate career readiness via alternative career readiness options. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will use the results of the study to inform the 87th Texas Legislative Session regarding alternative career readiness options that are more accessible to small districts and rural districts and are associated with college and career outcomes.

REL Southwest investigated the percentage of 2017/18 Texas high school graduates who did not meet CCMR accountability standards, particularly for graduates in small districts and rural districts. For graduates who did not meet CCMR accountability standards, the study examined the percentage of graduates who met possible alternative career readiness options identified by TEA and as defined by the Texas Perkins V Comprehensive Local Needs Assessment or connected to work-based learning opportunities: CTE completer, CTE concentrator, CTE explorer, CTE participant, and work-based learner.3 Finally, the study explored whether graduates who met the alternative career readiness options performed comparably on postsecondary college and career outcomes within one year of high school graduation with graduates who met CCMR accountability standards.

TEA partnered with REL Southwest to conduct this study. Remarking on the partnership with REL Southwest, Jarrad Toussant of TEA stated, “REL Southwest staff were responsive to addressing our key policy questions within the tight timeframe provided for analysis. Through this collaboration, we have advanced our understanding of the application of the CCMR standards across various LEA [local education agency] contexts, especially in the less chartered area of career readiness.”

Study results will inform education policy in Texas

The REL Southwest study provides an actionable evidence-based resource to help TEA make recommendations to the state Legislature for alternative career readiness options for high school graduates. Key findings include the following:

  • More than 40 percent of graduates did not demonstrate college, career, or military readiness.
  • No substantive differences were identified between small districts and large districts or between rural districts and major suburban districts in the percentages of graduates who met a career readiness accountability standard.
  • Nearly all graduates who did not demonstrate CCMR met at least one alternative career readiness option.
  • Among graduates who did not demonstrate CCMR, a higher percentage from small districts and rural districts were CTE concentrators, whereas the percentage from small districts and rural districts who were CTE completers or work-based learners was similar to large districts and major suburban districts.
  • CTE completers and work-based learners had higher rates of college enrollment than graduates who met a career readiness accountability standard.
  • CTE completers had higher rates of credential attainment or college persistence than graduates who met a career readiness accountability standard.

Speaking to the importance of the study in making recommendations to the Legislature, Commissioner Morath remarked, “It is critical that the state continues to iterate and incentivize the most meaningful milestones of post K–12 readiness for our over 1,200 LEAs throughout the state. This work ensures that our students have the greatest number of opportunities upon graduation and ensures that the talent needs of our employers and labor markets are met.”

Continuing the partnership beyond the study publication

REL Southwest will continue to support TEA’s research needs and efforts to grow the evidence base informing policy and practice decisions in this area through our ongoing partnership. Potential areas for further research and collaboration include conducting future studies incorporating additional cohorts of graduates, exploring the attainment of CCMR accountability standards by various student subgroups, and considering postsecondary outcomes beyond the study’s timeframe.

REL Southwest will also provide study materials to TEA to facilitate future research the agency may wish to conduct. Jarrad Toussant noted, “TEA plans to continue the research embarked on by REL Southwest to explore avenues for students to meaningfully demonstrate career readiness. The study generated potential indicators for us to focus future analysis and provided guidance on additional outcomes to consider.”

1 Texas Education Agency. (2019). H.B. in 30: College, career, or military readiness outcomes bonus and exam reimbursements. https://tea.texas.gov/sites/default/files/HB3-Video-Series-CCMR-Outcomes-Bonus.pdf

2 Texas Rural Schools Task Force. (2017). Elevating support for Texas rural and small schools. https://tea.texas.gov/sites/default/files/17-0648%20Texas%20Rural%20Schools%20Taskforce%20Report%20v06%20FINAL%20-%20lm.pdf

3 The options are described on page 4 of this REL Southwest report. Download here: https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs/projects/project.asp?projectID=6710


For more information on CTE programs, career readiness, and related rural district issues:

< Next Post Previous Post >

Author Information

profile photo of Susan Burkhauser, Ph.D.

Susan Burkhauser, Ph.D.

Researcher | American Institutes for Research

sburkhauser@air.org