Are High School Career and Technical Students Less Prepared for College?

By Ball, John Fredrick, Jr. | Techniques, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Are High School Career and Technical Students Less Prepared for College?


Ball, John Fredrick, Jr., Techniques


In recent years, career and technical education (CTE) has increasingly faced criticism that it does not contribute to improved academic performance or the likelihood of success in postsecondary education (Preparing America's Future, 2003). President Bush stated that CTE "has produced little or no evidence of improved outcomes for students despite decades of federal investment."

While the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) established a broad range of worthwhile academic goals, has CTE failed to help students achieve these goals? Does CTE handicap students academically? Are career and technical students less prepared than other students for college or other postsecondary education?

Part of the dilemma in judging CTE based on criteria established in NCLB is that NCLB defines educational success as limited to and measured by academic test scores. CTE has used career and postsecondary placement, rather than academic achievement, as its measures of success. Consequently, there has been little concern for collecting data to validate or measure academic achievement in these fields. The problem is further compounded by the fact that many individuals are unfamiliar with CTE methodology and do not recognize that CTE is simply a matter of presenting academic content in an applied, hands-on approach. CTE methodology often minimizes theoretical background and therein is criticized by those unfamiliar with direct application or practical experience.

However, the fact that CTE has expended little effort to prove itself in terms of academic measures does not mean that CTE students are academically less competent. CTE has begun to examine this issue and collect data from within its ranks. Several current research projects indicate that CTE students perform as well as non-CTE students on several measures of academic performance. There is also evidence that some CTE programs actually improve the academic proficiency of students.

One recent study used college placement test scores to compare the academic performance of high school CTE students to academic degree-oriented students (non-CTE). ACT's COMPASS was administered to all students from three high schools for three successive years. Results found no statistically significant difference between the CTE and non-CTE group mean scores on the pre-algebra, algebra or writing sections of the test. CTE and non-CTE students were found to be academically equally prepared to enter college (Ball, 2003).

Table 1 presents mean COMPASS scores. Testing was based on determining statistical significance at a two-sided alpha level of 0.05.

A second research project examined the ability of CTE to improve college placement test scores for high school students. In southern Idaho, individuals who plan to attend Idaho State University's (ISU) College of Technology are required to take either the ACT, SAT or ACT's COMPASS placement test. Those seeking associate degrees in career and technical programs must meet the same academic criteria as students seeking academic bachelor degrees. In some career and technical programs, students can be admitted to non-degree status with lower scores.

Preparing for Postsecondary

In 1996 it was discovered that only 25 percent of southern Idaho high school seniors planning to enroll at the ISU College of Technology were academically qualified to begin coursework without remediation. The following year, a regional program was implemented to focus on this problem. High school administrators, counselors and CTE instructors from 16 school districts worked with tech prep personnel to encourage all high school juniors and seniors interested in career and technical programs to take the COMPASS.

Scores were shared with counselors and teachers. In turn, they advised students of the academic requirements needed to enter college and helped students hone their academic skills.

By 2001, scores began to improve.

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Are High School Career and Technical Students Less Prepared for College?
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