Integrating Career Technical Education with Competency-Based Education

“One system that has often been overlooked in conversations about competency based pathways has been that of career technical education (CTE). CTE has promoted personalized learning and real-world application – both fundamental tenets of a competency-based approach – yet it has rarely been intentionally integrated into states’ Competency-Based Pathway (CBP) approaches.”

Alissa Peltzman, Achieve’s VP of State Policy & Implementation Support, is right. There’s much to learn from CTE that can inform and act as an entry point to competency-based systems in both K-12 and HigherEd systems.

With this acknowledgement, Achieve recently partnered with the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) to elevate the value of coordination between CBE and CTE leaders.

In May 2015, Achieve and NASDCTEc brought together national partner organizations alongside several states within Achieve’s Competency-Based Pathways (CBP) State Partnership to better understand the implications of systems alignment, identify key considerations, and elevate states and districts already beginning this integration. To share insights from this work, the groups co-authored and released Building a Strong Relationship between Competency-Based Pathways and Career Technical Education–a report that identifies opportunities for collaboration, integration, and strengthened relationships between CBP and CTE leaders. It explores the leverage points and challenges to integrating CTE into a CBP system, and where possible, offers state and district examples.

The brief issues a call to action for states to be intentional about including CTE in the transition to competency-based learning and offers a number of leverage points to better integrate CTE into CBP strategies, including the support of:

  • Contextualized learning environments for all students;
  • Self-directed pathways anchored in students’ career interests and inclusive of the full breadth of CCR knowledge and skills;
  • High-quality experiential learning opportunities that allow students to apply their learning in real-world contexts;
  • Project-based learning as a platform for contextualized teaching, student-directed pathways, and experiential learning; and
  • CTE as a component and complement to CBP assessment systems that authentically measure student learning.

Key questions for states include:

  • Where does CTE currently stand in your state’s CBP priorities?
  • What role do CTE leaders play in your state’s CBP strategy?
  • What is the problem the state is trying to solve or the outcome the state hopes to achieve by integrating CTE into the CBP strategy?
  • Are there specific consequences in a system that is not aligned?
  • What are the leverage points between CBP and CTE that currently exist within your system?
  • Where are the major challenges in making use of those leverage points?
  • What systems are in place at the state level to monitor any systems integration efforts?

Finally, Achieve andNASDCTEc leave states with a number of factors to consider such as incorporating CTE at the outset to break down the deeply entrenched silos that exist at every level of the education system; ensuring equitable student access to high-quality CBP across CTE areas; building capacity for districts, schools, and educators to transition to an integrated CBP system; overcoming data and reporting challenges to capture student proficiency where it happens; recognizing that some elements of CTE programs are still beholden to time; and crafting a thorough, well-executed communications plan to build shared buy-in and common understanding among key stakeholders.

The brief is a useful conversation starter and guide for state leaders who are interested in shifting to competency-based pathways. We are optimistic about the shift to competency-based learning and applaud Achieve and NASDCTEc for an alignment effort like this one that will ultimately accelerate the shift to competency-based learning for more students.

For more information, download the full brief, or join the conversation on Twitter with @AchieveInc and @CTEWorks.

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