CTE’S focus on continuous improvement.

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Just one of the ways career and technical education (CTE) is

revamping its image is through increased attention to data-driven

instructional techniques as a means of improving and focusing

instruction on what matters most. Accountability and data have

increasingly become a core focus of research, news and commentary about

education in recent years. Though some of the attention to

accountability and data use may be tied to regulatory requirements,

there is also recognition among educators that metrics matter.

Throughout its existence, CTE has focused on performance and on

measuring that performance. For example, being able to write about how

to fix an automobile’s brakes is important, but actually fixing

them is critical. NOCTI, a partner in the National Research Center for

Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE), has shown throughout its

44-year history that technical data can be used to improve technical

programs. Another NRCCTE partner, the Southern Regional Education Board

(SREB), has been proving over its 23- year existence that integrating

academic and technical content further improves students’

competencies and skills. As part of their commitment to the NRCCTE, both

NOCTI and SREB are currently conducting research projects on the

applicability of professional development. NOCTI’s focus, described

in this article, has been to research, design, refine and launch a

program to help CTE educators understand and use technical data to

create real and sustainable program improvements.

Perkins IV and industry Certifications

Perkins IV spotlighted such structures as programs of study (POS)

and third-party industry-related assessments. Many CTE programs around

the country interpreted Perkins IV’s mandates to mean that all CTE

graduates must have an industry certification. This universal

acquisition, were it possible, would provide a means for students to

certify their skills to employers. The teacher, in turn, could proudly

boast, “60 percent of my students acquired the XYZ


NOCTI is a strong advocate for industry certification, and delivers

numerous certification tests itself, but NOCTI recognizes some flaws in

the educational scenario described above. How would this teacher use

assessment data to improve his or her students’ programs? How would

the teacher move students from 60 percent to 80 percent acquisition

rates? And how could all teachers in a school–or a state–maintain this

focus on improvement?

Data and Standards


Fortunately, data provides a way to make program improvements that

help all students achieve and reach goals, such as certification, and

provide educators with the ability to make informed decisions. The key

is to link measurable results (in the form of data) to improved

instruction. These measurable results must align with standards set for

the types of skills students need for college and career readiness. It

is widely agreed that students need a combination of technical, academic

and employability skills, and standards related to each of these appear

on almost all state Web sites. Such standards define goals for

educational accountability and are meant to be instilled in students as

they progress through various levels of education. National standards

for technical skills exist in some industries, usually through industry

associations, and are embedded in the assessments (and often

certifications) that measure student achievement. Assessment

organizations make these standards available on their Web sites so that

students, parents and educators can easily reference them.


National standards for academic subjects exist as well, either

within individual states or through associations within the various

disciplines; these may be subsumed by the recently developed Common Core

State Standards sponsored by the National Governors Association and the

Council of Chief State School Officers.


In 2008, the NRCCTE funded a survey, conducted by NOCTI, of CTE

teachers and administrators in five states to determine the status of

and need for CTE professional development. The survey’s primary

objective was to investigate how CTE educators used technical assessment

data to inform instructional decisions and identify the source(s) of

knowledge that enabled them to do so. A majority of respondents (68.8

percent of administrators; 69.2 percent of teachers) indicated that they

used technical assessment data to make instructional decisions. Most

of’ the others felt that they should be doing so but weren’t.

The typical changes teachers made, based at least partly on technical

assessment data, included revising lesson plans, adding more projects

and exercises in areas where scores were low. re-evaluating textbooks

and other materials, and requesting additional supplies or equipment.

Teachers also reported providing poorly performing students with

additional assistance and using [heir strengths to motivate them.

When asked how they learned to use data to make instructional

decisions, the administrators were more likely to have had formal

training (31.3 percent), and less likely to be self-taught (18.8

percent). Teachers were most likely to be self-taught (30.8 percent),

and less likely to have had formal training (17.9 percent:) or

professional development (15.4 percent).

A second objective of the NRCCTE survey was to examine the types of

professional development CTE, educators had received related to using

data, and how those offerings were perceived. About one-third of

educators had not received any such professional development. Of those

who had most felt that the training contained necessary information at

an appropriate level. Sample professional development topics included

interpretation and application of student test data, and information on

types of tests, test items and test terminology.

A third objective was to understand educators’ perceptions of

the types of professional development and the most useful topics.

Results indicated a preference for a mixture of formal training and

practical follow-up. Respondents were also asked about desired topics

for professional development. Teachers wanted to know what questions

test data can and cannot answer, appropriate and inappropriate uses of

test data, information on test development, attributes of a good test,

the meaning of technical terms on tests, interpreting group-level test

data, and how to select the most appropriate measures for the

curriculum. Administrators wanted training that included interpreting

student-and group-level test data; comparing classroom or individual

data to school, district, state or national averages; measuring student

and classroom improvement over time; and information on types of tests

and test items available.

A New Tool for Program Improvement: CTEDDI

CTE educators have been focusing on benchmarks and continuous

quality improvement for many years. Thanks to the work of the NRCCTE,

new tools will enable them to focus on specific content with far greater

precision than before. One of these tools is NRCCTE’s CT-EDDI

(Career and Technical Educators using Data-Driven Improvement) model,

developed through NOCTI’s research. CT’EDDI uses multiple

research-developed processes to ensure that its methods “work”

for CTE educators.

Any professional development system, once implemented, has to have

staying power, so CTEDDI features an instate facilitator who visits

teachers and administrators on a scheduled basis. It also features an

electronic professional networking site, where teachers using the

process can share implementation strategies in their building, in their

state or across state lines. The model involves a five-step cycle that

takes advantage of collecting and corroborating real data from the

educators’ own programs, analyzes the data using a team approach in

an initial work session, and guides educators to create and implement an

action plan with the support of long-term mentoring throughout the

school year.

CTEDDI is the outcome of several years of research within the CTE

community. NOCTI’s survey of teachers and administrators identified

a need for instruction on using data from end-of-program assessments and

indicated the desired characteristics of such professional development.

Research literature and other NRCCTE professional development studies

contributed to this effort. It was understood that the CTEDDI system

would need to be pilot-tested and iteratively improved, and this took

place over the last school year at nine sites in five states. After

using the educator and facilitator feedback to make numerous initial

refinements, project staff revised the CTEDDI model at the same sites,

at additional sites within those states, and with six additional states

educators from a greater variety of program areas and types of schools

are participating.

After the completion of this second cycle of model refinement,

starting in the 2011-2012 school year the NRCCTE will offer CTEDDI to

states as a technical assistance option. CTEDDI will provide educators

from participating’ states with professional development intended

to increase their knowledge and skills in the use and interpretation of

assessment data for the purpose of making instructional improvements.

The professional development will be delivered by facilitators who will

also serve as coaches for the educators as they apply their initial

training at their school sites. The implementation will be based to an

extent on the very successful technical assistance/professional

development models that the NRCCTE already offers related to curriculum

integration: (Math-in-CTE and Authentic Literacy-in-CTE).

States interested in participating in the professional development

should e-mail [email protected] for more details.

A Look at Case Studies of Professional Development

Many participating school administrators clearly have embraced this

process as a means of learning how to improve instruction through data

and have implemented positive changes as a result. As part of a series

of case studies conducted by NOCTI, the practices of several individual

schools in a variety of states were reviewed. At one such site, Ray

Hasart, director of GTE in the High Desert District of Oregon, noted

such an increased interest in the analysis and review of end-of-program

technical assessment data that the district doubled its professional

development budget to meet the need for data-based improvement.

At another site, Pennsylvania’s Reading Muhlenberg Career and

Technology Center (RMCTC), director Gerald Warner mentioned that by

tracking a variety of data, including technical and academic assessments

and industry certifications, his team can review program trends, adjust

curriculum, and work to increase the number of industry certifications

awarded. RMCTC now has two coaches to help teachers with academic

integration skills in literacy and numeracy. The RMCTC director

indicated that the school is more data rich and results-oriented than


Looking to the Future

If the spirit of Perkins, not just the letter, is to be adhered to,

it is critical that student achievement data are not simply gathered and

reported, but used to inform instruction and make classroom-based

improvements that should ultimately lead to higher student achievement.

These favorable outcomes depend on educators receiving effective

professional development to acquire skills in using and interpreting

data from standardized technical assessments that provide meaningful

gradient score reports. Such professional development should provide

educators with: (1) the knowledge and skills they need to understand and

use assessment data for instructional improvements in a manner that

meets standards for effective professional development, (2) the tools

and resources to apply those skills in their school settings, and (3)

the coaching and motivation to work collaboratively to use their skills

in a focused and integrated manner.

As educators use data to implement instructional improvements and

evaluate the effectiveness of these improvements, their efforts will be

more effectively targeted toward the specific needs of their students,

programs and schools–resulting in higher quality programs and a more

focused use of resources. As instructional improvements become more

targeted and effective, the result will be better prepared students

entering higher education and the workforce, and long term gains in

workforce quality, productivity and global competitiveness. These are

goals important not only to the image and success of the CTE field, but

to the nation as a whole.

John C.Foster, Ph.D., is the president and CEO of NOCTI and The

Whitener Group. He can be contacted at [email protected]

Patricia Kelley, Ph.D., is division manager for assessment

management at NOCTI. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Sandy Pritz, Ph.D., is a senior consultant with NOCTI. She can be

contacted at [email protected]

Carol Hodes, Ph.D., is also a senior consultant with NOCTI. She con

be contacted at [email protected]

CTEDDI will provide educators from participating states with

professional development intended to increase their knowledge and skills

in the use and interpretation of assessment data for the purpose of

making instructional improvements.

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