A New Direction for CTE Accountability and Evaluation

Article excerpt

MANY OF THOSE WORKING IN THE FIELD OF CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION (CTE) have continuously grappled with the need for a uniformly global set of in formation--a national-level database or, at minimum, a common, standardized set of definitions and measures to meet CTE's multiple needs, including accountability and evaluation, career guidance and program improvement. This article primarily focuses on data and CTE accountability and why these matter in the current policy context. It also describes the work currently being undertaken by the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) and others toward establishing common data standards and a new direction for CTE accountability and evaluation that anticipates changes in federal policy.

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A group consisting of researchers, data experts and policymakers met in January of" 2010 at the University of Louisville to continue work on the NRC CTE's Perkins Crosswalk Validation Project--an evolving multi-state, multi-institutional collaborative effort seeking (1) greater consistency and clarity in Perkins secondary and postsecondary data collection and reporting, (2) a common data crosswalk that links occupations to educational programs, career clusters, and career pathways, and (3) a foundation for more standardized accountability requirements in later iterations of the Perkins legislation. Participants also discussed the pressing need to use CTE data and accountability systems to shape current and future education and workforce development policy, as I will describe here.

Why Don't We Have a National CTE Database?

At present, the United Stales has no national, comprehensive database that meets the accountability requirements prescribed in the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (otherwise known as Perkins IV). Individual state-level databases that collect CTE accountability information do exist, but these generally have been built to serve state-specific purposes, needs and requirements. Most have no connection either to other databases within the state--most states keep their secondary and postsecondary CTE data separate--or to other states, let alone to a national system. As I will note below, many have sought to achieve the ideal of a uniform, global database for CTE accountability and evaluation, and much effort at both the national and state levels has gone into standardizing variable definitions and measurement approaches with the goal of developing a common set of CTE indicators.

Many factors make both a national database and a common framework difficult goals to achieve. At present, CTE data are obtained from three disparate and generally unconnected sources: (1) the aforementioned state-based CTE data systems. (2) national data systems such as the Education Data Exchange Network (EDEN) or the Integrated Postsecondary Education Database System, and (3) the National Center for Education Statistics Sample Survey Data. Each system requires considerable technical expertise to operate; each is also limited in the extent to which it could serve as a common CTE accountability and evaluation system. As an example, the United States currently has at least 51 different state-based CTE data systems--in reality, it has at least 102, given states' separation of their secondary and postsecondary CTE data.

In these systems, definitions of and measurement approaches for arriving at CTE indicators are all different; such conditions are not optimal for a common accountability framework. If these disparate data could be combined in a single database, they would need to be housed in one location. State data privacy and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) regulations make such a central database problematic for most state and local education agencies. For these reasons, large, longitudinal national and state educational databases have not been without controversy; nevertheless, the U. …