As the NYS Board of Regents deliberates on the potential of Career and Technical Education as a valid pathway to a high school Regents diploma, BOCES District Superintendents are being asked: “Is the quality and rigor of CTE in this state universal enough to positively affirm a shift to a career pathways orientation?”
Embracing CTE as a pathway to a diploma and careers is an unprecedented way of viewing education in this state. When the Regents consider the merits, they rightfully look for all the elements that are contained in more conventional academic areas such as core curriculum, standards, assessments, and certifications or outcomes.
In the world of CTE, content area curriculum varies across the state; certifying bodies are not always equal in stature or credibility; there are few objective entities that construct CTE assessments in the secure manner in which other statewide assessment are developed and delivered; and industry certifications have varying degrees of meaning for graduates.
Recognizing that work needs to be done in this area, a group of BOCES District Superintendents formed a leadership team to engage in the construction of a CTE assessment system and a common “core” curriculum across CTE disciplines in every part of the state. Knowing the work that WSWHE BOCES Director of Career and Technical Education Doug Leavens did to institute business and industry standards, accountability, and SED approval of the WSWHE BOCES’ CTE programs 15 years ago, District Superintendent Jim Dexter asked Leavens to spearhead this next phase of development.
“We hope our quest to move toward a unified assessment system will account for the new APPR system and serve as a catalyst for expanding the number of academic credits that students can earn through Career and Technical Education toward a high school Regents diploma,” said Dexter. “Conventional academic programs prepare students very well for further education, but CTE is the entity that prepares them for careers.”
Under Leavens’ leadership, the team secured the services of WSWHE BOCES Lead Coordinator for School Improvement Katie Jones, who guided CTE instructors on a mission to identify priority content in an effort to establish a core curriculum across the state.
Over 85 CTE instructors from throughout the state participated in the two-day professional development workshop. In order to be selected for the opportunity, the teacher had to have five or more years of teaching in their field, be an active consultant professional in the field, be a teacher leader, be collaborative in nature, have knowledge of Webb’s/Blooms Taxonomy, and demonstrate evidence of good assessment skills.
“The whole experience required a real discourse between the CTE teachers from different BOCES,” said Jones. “The teachers engaged with each other, discussed, debated, agreed, disagreed, and came to consensus on curriculum that would prepare their students for both entry-level positions in the field and further education with a good head start.”
Prior to the conference, Jones surveyed all 37 BOCES to see which CTE programs they had in common and which skills they had in common. On the first day of the conference, the CTE teachers identified critical skills associated with large competencies for their content area by level. On the second day, the teachers wrote assessment questions that align to those content areas and decided how to place them in the curriculum.
“It was meaningful work,” said WSWHE BOCES Culinary Arts Instructor Maureen Clancy. “We’re trying to get at critical thinking, and developing the students’ thought process using Bloom’s Taxonomy, and develop their problem solving skills.”
The test questions were placed in the Regional Assessment Development System (a bank of questions) and will be used universally throughout the state.
“We will review the questions the teachers develop to see if they’re light in any of the priority content areas,” said WSWHE BOCES Data Analyst Abigail Selert. “The next step will be to jury the questions and pilot them in the spring. Once we get live data back from the field tests, then we can make better decisions about what items stay and what items get tossed out. Then each BOCES will decide how to use the test in its entirety as either a SLO test for growth, or a pre-and post test, an achievement test for the local 20%, or a final.”
“This is a hot topic,” said Clancy. “We’re developing a statewide test that everyone is going to have to adhere to. We’re trying to hit every level on things the students are going to need in the workplace. We’re making sure the questions are good, valid, written correctly, and with logic.”
In addition, the assessments will demonstrate the progression of each program, of how they align to the curriculum and APPR.
Jones told the teachers: “Go back to your home school and feel good about what you did here. You’re not going to test everything you teach, but you’re going to know the direction the program is going and what skills your students are going to grow over the two years you have them in your program.”
“No existing test from a certifying body or testing company can help us drive toward a common curriculum,” said Leavens. “It is important for the CTE teachers who routinely do the work of educating students for careers to shape the curriculum, in conjunction with input from business and industry, so we will be able to assess CTE students and programs universally across the state. This work will help the Board of Regents recognize the unique ability of CTE in developing the ‘career readiness’ part of the ‘college and career’ mantra.”