Middle Grades CTE: Career Advisement

May 26th, 2020

There is widespread agreement that high school is too late to begin to expose learners to careers and the foundational skills needed to access and succeed in careers, but there remains a lack of consensus about what CTE and career readiness should entail at the middle grades level.

Advance CTE, with support from ACTE, convened a Shared Solutions Workgroup of national, state and local leaders to identify the core components of a meaningful middle grades CTE experience. This collaboration resulted in Broadening the Path: Design Principles for Middle Grades CTE and a companion blog series exploring each of the core programmatic elements of middle grades CTE defined in the paper. In this third entry in the blog series, we will examine promising state and local practices to support career advisement for middle grade learners.

Career advisement is an integral part of any middle grades CTE program and one that will require states and districts to ensure there is capacity – in terms of time, resources, knowledge and tools – among both teachers and counselors to support each and every learner. Yet, according to research from Advance CTE, career advisement strategies remain somewhat limited at the middle grades level, with 51 percent of states funding or providing professional development, 47 percent developing and adopting statewide career advising and development standards, and 31 percent of states funding full-time or part-time positions focused on career advising and development for the middle grades. However, some states and local districts have picked up the mantle to support career advisement for all middle grades students.

Starting as a pilot in high-need, hard-to-reach communities in 2010, the Arkansas College and Career Coach program has gained legislative support over the years and been expanded to reach tens of thousands of students across the state. Through the program, coaches provide support for 7th-12th grade students as they plan and prepare for life after high school. Coaches are each stationed at a partnering institution of higher education, an education service cooperative, or a non-profit organization, and are responsible for providing services and supports to students.

Wisconsin’s Academic and Career Planning (ACP) process goes beyond requiring students to simply complete an individualized learning plan (ILP) but rather helps schools and school counselors leverage the ILPs to start conversations with students about their future career possibilities. ACP begins with helping students in grade 6 explore their interests and strengths and then guides them through career exploration and planning, with regular check-ins throughout middle and high school to recalculate plans as needed. The ACP integrates CTE coursework, work-based learning and credentials. Districts have been given flexibility in how they implement ACP, but DPI provides regular guidance and training, as well as numerous support materials.

North Carolina supports career development coordinators (CDC) across the state. Randolph County Schools has a full-time CDC at each high school who also serves that high school’s feeder middle schools. CDCs function as the point person for career development across institutions and collaborate with school counselors, teachers, dropout prevention specialists and career coaches provided by the local community college. The Randolph County CDCs support middle school CTE courses and course selection, work-based learning experiences, career exploration events, career and academic planning, and a career exploration and management course for ninth graders.

As you reflect on this element of middle grades CTE in your state, district or school, consider such questions as:

  • Is career advisement provided to all students? Is it designed to provide individualized supports to students?
  • Do middle grades CTE programs attend to students’ aptitudes, interests and preferences, or do they overly focus on just one of those dimensions?
  • Are career advisement activities aligned to age-appropriate standards?
  • Are career advisement activities sequenced from early education into the middle grades and then into high school as part of a broader continuum?
  • Do counseling professionals get the supports, training and tools necessary to deliver effective career advisement at the middle grades level?  
  • Are all students guided in the development of an individualized career/academic plan for the future by knowledgeable adults?  
  • What role do employers play in supporting career development and advisement activities?  
  • Are career advisement activities prioritized within instructional time?  
  • How are families appropriately involved in student career planning activities?

For additional resources relevant to career advisement in the middle grades, check out the Middle Grades CTE Repository, another deliverable of this Shared Solutions Workgroup.

Middle Grades CTE: Course/Activity Structure and Scheduling

May 19th, 2020

There is widespread agreement that high school is too late to begin to expose learners to careers and the foundational skills needed to access and succeed in careers, but there remains a lack of consensus about what CTE and career readiness should entail at the middle grades level.

Advance CTE, with support from ACTE, convened a Shared Solutions Workgroup of national, state and local leaders to identify the core components of a meaningful middle grades CTE experience. This collaboration resulted in Broadening the Path: Design Principles for Middle Grades CTE and a companion blog series exploring each of the core programmatic elements of middle grades CTE defined in the paper. In this second entry in the blog series, we will examine the core programmatic element of course/activity structure and scheduling.

Inclusivity and flexibility are at the core of state and local decision-making about middle grades CTE structure and scheduling. Whether middle grades CTE is integrated across the curriculum or offered through individual courses or course units, specific and regular time should be dedicated to CTE in the middle grades so that all learners can benefit. In particular, careful attention must be paid to ensure that learners who need additional academic supports are not kept from experiencing CTE due to scheduling constraints. Decisions about middle grades CTE delivery may affect master schedules, the availability and qualifications of educators, and even graduation requirements.

States and local districts are implementing a variety of delivery options for middle grades CTE. Utah’s one-credit College and Career Awareness course is required for all students in grade 7 or 8 and uses project-based learning to help students explore high school, postsecondary and career options; investigate programs of study relevant to the Utah labor market; and develop workplace skills.

Delaware also uses a course model to deliver middle grades CTE, but courses are developed on the local level. Local education agencies complete an application that identifies course skill standards and curriculum as well as end-of-course assessments, affiliated career and technical student organizations, teacher qualifications and aligned CTE programs of study at the high school level.

In response to 2017 legislation expanding CTE into the middle grades, Maine is in the process of developing standards for middle school CTE and awarding grant funding to pilot a range of middle grades CTE delivery models. These pilot projects are developed in partnership among career and technical centers, CTE regions and area middle schools. The aim is to provide multiple, standards-based avenues and opportunities for middle grade students to explore CTE.

Many pilot sites are trying out a variety of CTE experiences and exposures. For instance, Lewiston Regional Technical Center is piloting week-long exploration camps, multi-week summer camps and guidance sessions. This work is supported by two dedicated staff members, a CTE exploration instructor and a CTE exploration coordinator/counselor. Mid-Maine Technical Center is matching middle school students with high school mentors to work together on applied learning projects, among other activities, while one of Biddeford Regional Center of Technology’s projects connects middle school students with local employers in the manufacturing sector through guest speakers and industry tours. Oxford Hills Technical School operates the Viking Voyages program, through which area middle school students take part in week-long, project-based learning experiences during the school year with the technical school, secondary students and community members.

As you reflect on this element of middle grades CTE in your state, district or school, consider such questions as:

  • Are CTE courses or experiences structured in such a way that all students have access — or do students have to make choices between CTE and other experiences?
  • Are there efforts to identify and eliminate barriers to participation and success in CTE courses or experiences for marginalized or special populations of students?
  • Is enough time and space dedicated to middle grades CTE experiences to enable experiential or hands-on learning both within and outside the school day?
  • Is enough time dedicated to middle grades CTE experiences to provide the necessary depth and breadth of content and deliver on student outcomes?
  • How are experiences/courses sequenced from early education into the middle grades and then into high school as part of a broader continuum?
  • Is information about course options and scheduling choices communicated clearly to students and their families?

For additional resources relevant to middle grades CTE course/activity structure and scheduling, check out the Middle Grades CTE Repository, another deliverable of this Shared Solutions Workgroup.

Middle Grades CTE: Standards, Curriculum & Assessment

May 12th, 2020

There is widespread agreement that high school is too late to begin to expose learners to careers and the foundational skills needed to access and succeed in careers, but there remains a lack of consensus about what CTE and career readiness should entail at the middle grades level.

Advance CTE, with support from ACTE, convened a Shared Solutions Workgroup of national, state and local leaders to identify the core components of a meaningful middle grades CTE experience. This collaboration resulted in Broadening the Path: Design Principles for Middle Grades CTE and a companion blog series exploring each of the core programmatic elements of middle grades CTE defined in the paper. In this first entry in the blog series, we will examine the core programmatic element of standards, curriculum and assessment.

As the backbone of a robust middle school CTE experience, middle grades CTE curriculum should ensure that students are exposed to careers across all 16 Career Clusters®, supplemented by opportunities to dig deeper into career areas of interest. Curriculum and assessments should be based on clear, consistent standards that integrate academic, employability and, where appropriate, foundational technical skills and align to other relevant standards across the education continuum.

A number of states have developed, or are in the process of developing, standards for middle grades CTE and career development. Idaho has taken a rigorous approach to this work, partnering with Education Northwest to gather input from stakeholders through a statewide survey, regional focus groups and research on middle grades standards in other states. This process has led to a set of standards organized around three questions—“Who am I?” (self-evaluation), “What’s out there for me?” (career exploration) and “How do I get there?” (future planning). Ten schools will pilot the standards and associated materials in the 2020-21 school year.

In addition to standards development, states have created curriculum, lesson plans and assessments to help bring CTE and career exploration into the middle grades. For instance, Nebraska has developed a Career Development Model and Toolkit that includes a library of lesson plans for PK-12 learners that can be filtered by each of the state’s career readiness standards. The Technical Assistance Center of New York has developed rubrics to support CTE teachers in assessing life/career competencies in the middle grades. Teachers can create their own customized rubrics.

On the local level, Peoria Unified School District in Arizona has built a two-year curriculum for seventh- and eighth-grade students called Technology, Life & Careers (TLC). The TLC curriculum includes classroom- and lab-based instruction across multiple CTE subject areas as well as career assessments and interest inventories, work-based learning experiences and career and technical student organizations. The program culminates with students taking a deep dive into their career areas of interest and beginning their state-mandated Education and Career Action Plans.

As you reflect on this element of middle grades CTE in your state, district or school, consider such questions as:

  • Do middle grades CTE standards apply to all students or only to students who enroll in specific courses?
  • Do the standards and related curriculum balance breadth of career exploration with depth of knowledge?
  • How are middle grades CTE standards aligned with standards for career development across the K-12 system?
  • What role do employers play in developing or validating middle grades standards and providing input on specific curriculum or assessments?

For additional resources relevant to middle grades CTE standards, curriculum and assessment, check out the Middle Grades CTE Repository, another deliverable of this Shared Solutions Workgroup.

New Middle Grades CTE State Resource Repository

May 5th, 2020

In late March, Advance CTE, in partnership with the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), released Broadening the Path: Design Principles for Middle Grades CTE, which laid out a theory of action for advancing high-quality middle grades Career Technical Education (CTE) policies and programs. With the promotion of middle grades CTE in the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V), it is an ideal time for state and local leaders to consider how to best support and expand CTE in middle school.

Today, Advance CTE has released an extensive repository of state-level resources that state and local leaders can leverage as they begin to develop and expand CTE into the middle grades. The repository includes links to resources from all 50 states and Washington, DC, including state middle grades CTE standards, career development guidance and tools, work-based learning and Career Technical Student Organization supports, licensure requirements, state policies and more.

Starting next week, Advance CTE and ACTE will be releasing a series of blogs to lift up promising state and local practices across the core programmatic elements of middle grades CTE.  The first blog will focus on middle grades CTE standards, curriculum and assessment.

Broadening the Path: Design Principles for Middle Grades CTE and the new repository were created with the support of the Middle Grades CTE Shared Solutions Workgroup, comprised of national, state and local leaders, convened by Advance CTE with support from ACTE and generously funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Kate Kreamer, Deputy Executive Director

Broadening the Path: Design Principles for Middle Grades CTE

March 26th, 2020

There is widespread agreement that high school is simply too late to begin to expose learners to the variety of high-skill, high-wage and in-demand careers available to them and the foundational skills they will need to be able to access and succeed in those careers. Yet there remains a lack of consensus — or even basic understanding — about what Career Technical Education (CTE) and career readiness more broadly should entail at the middle grades level.

And, with The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) emphasizing career exploration and career development activities in the middle grades and allowing funds to be spent on students as young as fifth grade, the need to understand what high-quality middle grades CTE is – and isn’t – is more important than ever before.

Today, Advance CTE and Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) released Broadening the Path: Design Principles for Middle Grades CTE to support state and local leaders as they work to develop or strengthen middle grades CTE policies, programs and practices. Critically, this resource provides a theory of action for state and local leaders looking to design a new middle grades CTE program or policy or to reflect on and improve upon what is already in place.

Specifically, this paper lays out:

  • Outcomes for student learning that identify what students should gain through participation in middle grades CTE.
  • Ten design principles that must undergird any middle grades CTE program or policy. The principles should serve as a resource to ensure that middle grades CTE is comprehensive and fully meets each learner’s needs.
  • The core programmatic elements of a middle grades CTE program or policy through which the design principles are applied, with relevant questions for consideration to identify strategies or steps for addressing gaps in the implementation of the 10 design principles.

Broadening the Path also includes a design principles self-assessment for state and local leaders to evaluate their current policies and programs.

This resource was created with the support of the Middle Grades CTE Shared Solutions Workgroup, comprised of national, state and local leaders, convened by Advance CTE with support from ACTE and generously funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

For those interested in leading state examples of middle grades CTE policies and programs, check out Advance CTE’s 2018 report, Expanding Middle School CTE to Promote Lifelong Learner Success.

 

Kate Kreamer, Deputy Executive Director

 

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