Centering Students in CTE Program Criteria


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As secondary career and technical education programs continue to grow in states, we updated our 50-State Comparison to provide a comprehensive overview of state policies. This is the second post in our series highlighting interesting insights and state policy examples from our research.

Secondary career and technical education program approval is a key component of administering CTE programs. Program approval ensures that approved programs in the state address the core elements required for a CTE program. Program approval criteria are the program components that a local education agency is required to have to operate a program.

For example, course details and workforce data may help states evaluate the benefit of a particular course of study considering the economic needs of a community. Program approval criteria can affect the way existing programs are administered and implemented, which can impact the success of students in CTE programs. That said, states may want to think about ways to incorporate student-centered program criteria that are aligned with existing student-centered quality and accountability metrics.  

In our recent 50-State Comparison, we gathered information on state approval criteria for secondary CTE programs. We identify the state entity responsible for program approval as well as program approval criteria. We found that at least 45 states have program approval in state policy, and in most instances the state has established program approval criteria.  

A wide variety of criteria are used to approve CTE programs, ranging from course details to student outcomes. State program criteria for approval are a set of baseline expectations for all secondary CTE programs in the state. The program approval process can help similar programs across a state address gaps, assess program effectiveness and identify areas for improvement.  

We identified the most common program approval criteria in all 50 states and created a standard list of 13 categories. The five most common program criteria categories are: 

  • Course Details. 
  • Workforce Data. 
  • Curriculum. 
  • Equipment and Facilities. 
  • Finance.  

The categories for program approval that states are less likely to require are related to students, including:  

  • Student Development Organizations. 
  • Student Outcomes. 
  • Student Counseling and Guidance.  

Considering the data, states can use program criteria to establish standards that ensure accountability for student outcomes. Specifically, aligning Perkins V program quality measures and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), School Quality and Student Success (SQSS) measures with student-centered program approval criteria could emphasize student experience and success in CTE programs 

By creating alignment between state requirements for CTE program approval and federal accountability and funding requirements, there is an opportunity to leverage existing data, resources and measures to support student success.  

For example, we know the benefits of work-based learning for students and that it is one of the most frequently selected measures of program quality under the Perkins V Act. However, the Additional Student Experience category, which includes work-based learning opportunities as a criterion for program approval, is only included in 13 states. Establishing a program criterion that facilitates work-based learning opportunities for students may enhance the student experience in CTE programs and impact students’ future success 

States have an opportunity to leverage CTE program criteria to advance student-centered outcomes by aligning them with Perkins V and ESSA outcome measures. Delaware includes work-based learning experience in its program criteria, in Perkins V and as part of the SQSS measure in the ESSA plan. Vermont includes credential attainment or recognition in program criteria and as outcome measures in Perkins V and ESSA plans. Aligning program requirements with existing measures of program quality is an opportunity to center student opportunity and promote policy alignment and coordination across related programs.  

Student-centered CTE program approval criteria have the potential to support program design and instruction to focus on student experiences, which could improve student outcomes in the workforce and postsecondary education. The good news for most states is that they already measure program quality using student-centered criteria. Linking those existing measures with CTE program approval methods can improve the student experience.  

As CTE programs are developed, states may need qualified teachers to instruct courses and mentor students. Don’t miss the final post in this series on recruiting and retaining a strong CTE teacher workforce! 

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Lauren Bloomquist is a former policy analyst at Education Commission of the States.

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