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Examining CTE data: Insights from nine Texas districts

a man and a woman researcher studying

By Jessica Giffin | November 30, 2021

This post summarizes how REL Southwest has supported districts and career and technical education (CTE) directors to use data to inform their needs assessment under the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V). (Read our blog post about Perkins V.) Blog author Jessica Giffin, senior technical assistance consultant with the American Institutes for Research (AIR), describes a recent REL Southwest CTE coaching project that she facilitated for nine Texas school districts.

The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) requires districts to complete a comprehensive local needs assessment (CLNA) that provides an opportunity for local education agencies to identify areas where targeted improvements can be made to increase opportunities and positive outcomes for students. The needs assessment engages district and school leaders in a data-driven process to improve CTE program design and implementation, helping districts to align programs to labor market needs, ensure equitable access for all students, and direct resources and supports to improve the size, scope, and quality of CTE programs of study.

On February 11, 2021, REL Southwest’s Lynn Mellor and our district partner, Sheri Bonds, of Round Rock Independent School District (ISD), presented their report on examining high school CTE programs and the postsecondary outcomes of CTE students at the CTAT Winter 2021 Virtual Conference. (Read the full report on the Round Rock ISD study and view a related video.) During the presentation, nine Texas school districts reached out to REL Southwest to support similar analyses as they develop their five-year plan in response to Perkins V. In the summer of 2021, REL Southwest provided coaching to help the nine Texas districts review their CTE graduate postsecondary outcome data to inform program improvements as they prepare their CLNA. The coaching process included the following steps, offered here to help other districts review their CTE data as they develop a CLNA:

  1. Building a diverse team of stakeholders for the coaching. CTE directors were encouraged to invite members of the CTE team and stakeholders working with them to participate in the data review and help strengthen their CTE programming. Many district teams invited CTE teachers, school leaders (such as principal, outreach specialist, director of postsecondary readiness), representatives from their local community college, and college and career counselors.
  2. Presenting relevant data. REL Southwest shared data in tables and graphs displaying CTE learners’ gender and demographics in the district, programs of study completed by CTE learners, alignment of the programs of study to local labor market needs, and postsecondary outcomes for CTE students.
  3. Identifying key findings. To help districts identify key findings, REL Southwest staff had each team review all their findings and share something that was surprising or interesting and identify themes or patterns across the findings. REL Southwest staff then guided the teams to develop interpretations that might explain possible reasons or causes in the trends identified in the data.
  4. Reflecting on policies, practices, and strategies for strengthening CTE programs of study. Finally, district teams reflected on the implications from the data for strengthening CTE programs of study and efforts related to Perkins V in their districts. These reflections explored what policies, practices, or strategies district leaders could adopt or refine to address challenges identified in the data.

Key insights and discoveries from the data

Through the coaching process, districts pointed to several areas where improvements could be made to strengthen their CTE programming:

  • One school leader shared insights on a common challenge at their school preventing students from becoming CTE completers1—a tendency of students to want to take courses across multiple programs of study. The district team considered providing more college and career advising to help students realize the postsecondary benefits and opportunities of completing the courses needed to become a CTE completer in a program of study of interest.
  • Other district teams reflected that there may be cultural factors or family expectations that encourage students to pursue a particular pathway or prevent students from becoming CTE completers. Some teams shared that their districts and schools need to strengthen communication and outreach efforts with families to overcome these challenges.
  • Several district teams wanted to explore further why more English learner (EL), special education, and economically disadvantaged students were entering the workforce only, instead of entering college and the workforce, compared to other CTE students. Districts considered that analyzing additional data or providing more counseling to help students understand their postsecondary opportunities may be needed to help address equity gaps discovered.
  • Some districts discovered previously unrecognized opportunities rather than focusing solely on potential barriers and challenges:
    • Some districts were surprised to see that a large number of their CTE students were enrolling in college, information that districts realized they could use to strengthen their communication and outreach efforts with families and the community.
    • Another district indicated, with the opening of their CTE center, they would work with their community college to further strengthen the CTE pathways between high school and college in alignment with regional high-wage, in-demand career pathways.

We hope sharing our process for guiding these Texas districts in analysis of postsecondary outcomes of their CTE graduates, and the insights shared by the districts, will offer encouragement and a starting point for districts to replicate a similar process. In addition to guiding districts in completing the Perkins V-required CLNA, this data-driven process can help both educators and policymakers better support labor market needs and make informed decisions that ensure their CTE programs of study will provide high-quality employment opportunities for students.


1 A CTE Completer is a student completing and passing three or more CTE courses for at least four credits, including one level 3 or 4 course within the same program of study.

For more information on career and technical education programs:

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Author Information

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Jessica Giffin

American Institutes for Research