States Can Strengthen Career Readiness Under ESSA; Will Round Two States Seize the Opportunity?

September 20th, 2017

Nearly two years of planning came to a head on Monday as states hit the second plan submission window under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Under the law, states are required to engage in stakeholder consultation and develop a comprehensive, statewide strategy for spending and holding districts and schools accountable for billions of dollars in K-12 federal education funding.

Secretary Betsy DeVos’s Education Department is now responsible for reviewing and approving state implementation plans. However, review of the first round of state plans is still ongoing and four round two states have been granted an extension due to this year’s catastrophic hurricane season. Since the initial submission window in April of this year, Sec. DeVos has publicly approved 14 out of 17 plans, with Michigan, Massachusetts and Colorado still waiting for approval. The department is expected to approve those plans shortly. Among the states scheduled to submit plans this week, Texas, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina — each still reeling from the effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma — have been permitted to submit their pans later this fall.

Not all state plans have gone without controversy either. The extensive plan development process surfaced differences of opinion between various policymakers and stakeholders. In a few cases, state governors refused to sign their state plans before they were submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. While states are required to provide the governor 30 days to review and comment on the plan, ESSA does not explicitly require the governor’s approval.

Career Readiness in ESSA

As Advance CTE has discussed at length, there are several leverage points within ESSA — most of them new in this version of the law — that policymakers can use to drive career readiness in their states. The primary leverage points include:

  • Vision and Goal Setting: ESSA requires states to set out long-term goals for academic achievement, but states can go beyond the statute by setting ambitious targets for credential attainment, career readiness and successful postsecondary transitions. Articulating clear goals helps anchor the plan and ensure all strategies are aligned to serve the same end.
  • Accountability (Title I): Accountability is the most direct way states can incentivize career readiness through ESSA. States can use the “School Quality and Student Success” indicator — also known as the fifth indicator — to measure how well schools and local education agencies are preparing learners for successful transitions to college and careers.
  • Supporting Effective Instruction (Title II, Part A): Funds under Title II, Part A are often sub granted to local education agencies to provide professional development and support class size reduction strategies. However, ESSA allows states to set aside funds to train teachers and school leaders on strategies for integrating CTE and academic content as well as interpreting labor market information.
  • Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (Title IV, Part A): New under ESSA is the Title IV, Part A block grant, which consolidated categorically funded programs under the No Child Left Behind Act to give states and local school districts more agency to support student needs. Under the statute, grant funds may be used to support a well-rounded education, which now includes CTE.
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers (Title IV, Part B): 21st Century Community Learning Centers are designed to supplement the K-12 experience through non-school hours. They are required to support programs and activities related to a well-rounded education, including CTE. In the first round, a number of states chose to prioritize programs providing work-based learning, CTE and other career preparation activities.

While 11 of the first 17 submitted state plans included (or plan to include) a career-focused measure in their high school accountability rating systems, states overall missed the opportunity to fully leverage ESSA to maximize career readiness. Only five states describes specific state-level activities to support career readiness, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) and/or dual enrollment under Title IV, Part A. And only two states identified opportunities to support blended academic and technical professional development under Title II, Part B.

Nevertheless, there is still flexibility for state and local leaders to go beyond what is specifically laid out in their ESSA plans to adopt career readiness strategies and prepare learners for post-high school transitions. Local education agencies must develop their own strategic plans for using ESSA funds. Depending on their local context, school districts may elect to prioritize work-based learning, credential attainment and CTE programs of study.

In the coming months, Advance CTE will review the 34 remaining ESSA plans to determine where and how states are making connections between ESSA and career readiness. This analysis, to be released later this year, will update this summer’s “Mapping Career Readiness in State ESSA Plans” report.

Austin Estes, Policy Associate

In Ohio, Policymakers Modify Graduation Requirements, Expand Credential Options

August 29th, 2017

When Ohio state legislators passed HB487 in 2014, their intention was to increase flexibility, strengthen the rigor of high school examinations and provide more opportunities for learners to graduate ready for careers. Among other reforms, the bill formalized three pathways to graduation that would go into effect for the graduating class of 2018 (those students starting grade 12 this fall). These pathways include earning a remediation-free score on a college entrance examination, earning a cumulative passing score on seven end-of-course exams, or earning certain state-approved industry-recognized credentials.

But when local superintendents raised concerns about the policy earlier this year, state policymakers made critical last-minute changes and adopted additional graduation options. The concern was largely rooted in the idea that new end-of-course examinations were more difficult than previous versions and that many students would fall short of the full points needed to earn a diploma. Local leaders worried that the state graduation rate would fall by as much as a third under the new requirements.

In responses to this concern, Superintendent Paolo DeMaria and the State Board of Education identified a temporary solution that would provide additional flexibility and delay full implementation for a year. That modification was officially adopted and authorized by the legislature in the fiscal year 2018-19 operating budget, passed in June. Under the policy change, students in the class of 2018 will have two additional opportunities to earn a high school diploma. Under one pathway, students will still have to earn 20 course credits and take end-of-course exams, but they can also graduate by meeting at least two of the following:

  • 93 percent attendance during senior year;
  • a 2.5 GPA in at least four full-year senior-year courses;
  • a senior-year capstone project;
  • 120 hours of senior-year work or community service;
  • three credit hours via college credit plus;
  • passage of an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate class and exam;
  • a level three score on each of the three components of the WorkKeys test;
  • industry-recognized credentials totaling at least three points in Ohio’s system; and
  • receipt of an Ohio Means Jobs readiness seal.

An additional pathway allows students to earn a diploma by completing end-of-course examinations, finishing at least four courses in a state approved CTE program of study, and either earning a proficient score on technical skill assessments, earning an industry-recognized credential or completing 250 hours of work-based learning. While these changes only apply to the graduation class of 2018, the state hopes to develop a long-term solution soon.

Ohio Students Now Have More Options to Earn Industry-Recognized Credentials

Meanwhile, the Ohio Department of Education expanded options for students on the credential graduation pathway by adopting 49 new industry-recognized credentials. The current list spans 13 career fields ranging from health to hospitality and tourism. To be added to the list, credentials must either be aligned with in-demand occupations in Ohio or be submitted for consideration by members of the public.

To help learners take full advantage of the industry-recognized credential pathway and cross the finish line with credentials in hand, Ohio is also implementing a senior only credential program. The program is designed to help high school seniors who have met most of their graduation requirements round out their senior year and graduate career ready. Participating students can choose from several credentials — such as the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America Approved Veterinary Assistant credential or the American Medical Certification Association Phlebotomy Technician Certification — that can be earned within a year or less. The senior year credential program is a key piece of Ohio’s career readiness strategy under the New Skills for Youth initiative.

Elsewhere, States Authorize New Grants, Modify Course Requirements and Finalize ESSA Plans

  • To address a growing skills gap and equip learners with credentials to meet the demand of tomorrow’s workforce, Indiana Gov. Holcomb announced the Next Level Jobs Initiative. The initiative includes the Workforce Ready Grant — authorized by the legislature earlier this year — and the Employer Training Grant program, totalling more than $20 million over the next two years.
  • The Utah State Board of Education removed a requirement that middle school students take classes in physical education, health, the arts, and college and career readiness. The decision was designed to provide local education agencies more flexibility to set their own course requirements. While all classes must be offered, districts can choose to integrate courses as long as the core standards in each course are taught.
  • Meanwhile, several states have released updated or final versions of their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) implementation plans for public comment — including Wyoming, which submitted a plan to the U.S. Department of Education one month early. Read Advance CTE’s latest commentary on ESSA implementation here.

Austin Estes, Policy Associate

In Round 2 ESSA States, A Clear Vision for Career Readiness Helps Anchor Implementation Strategies

August 8th, 2017

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to articulate long-term goals for student academic achievement, graduation rates and English language proficiency. Yet some states have opted to go beyond federal requirements to describe a comprehensive vision for the future of K-12 education. In some cases, this helps anchor the plan and provides opportunities for cohesion across different title programs.

As the remaining 34 states prepare for next month’s submission deadline, several — including Pennsylvania and South Dakota — are taking the opportunity to refine their statewide vision. These states are leveraging the ESSA stakeholder engagement and planning process to chart out a new, aspirational future for education, one that puts career readiness front and center.

Pennsylvania Aims to Increase CTE Enrollment to Prepare All Learners for Postsecondary and Workforce Success

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), for example, describes its mission as preparing all learners for “meaningful engagement in postsecondary education, in workforce training, in career pathways, and as responsible, involved citizens.” PDE goes on to elevate the importance of career ready pathways for student success. This framing sets the tone for the rest of the state’s proposed ESSA plan, and is echoed through the state’s accountability, technical assistance and grant administration strategies.

Under accountability, Pennsylvania calls for a career readiness indicator to measure the implementation and completion of career exploration activities in elementary, middle and high school. Additionally, the state proposes a new public-facing report card called the Future Ready PA Index that will monitor and report out a variety of career readiness metrics. Metrics identified through stakeholder engagement include participation in advanced coursework (Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and dual enrollment), and the number of students earning industry-recognized credentials.  The inclusion of these metrics in Pennsylvania’s public reporting and accountability system demonstrates the state’s commitment to career preparation at all levels of education.

The plan also identifies funding sources through different ESSA title programs and outlines strategies to braid funds and promote certain career preparation activities. These strategies are organized around four guiding priorities, one of which is to ensure well-rounded, rigorous and personalized learning for all students. Specifically, the plan proposes to increase participation in advanced coursework, promote access to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education (STEM), and support meaningful career pathways, aiming to increase enrollment in state-approved CTE programs by five percent annually. With this clearly articulated vision, PDE urges local education agencies to braid funds through Title I, Title II and Title IV to support related efforts. Specific encouraged activities include hiring and training qualified career and college counselors to help learners make informed decisions about their career paths.

South Dakota Plans to Expand High-Quality CTE Pathways

Similarly, preparing all graduating high school student for postsecondary education and the workforce is one of four K-12 milestones identified in South Dakota’s ESSA plan. The importance of CTE and career preparation is not lost. In fact, South Dakota commits to providing learners with multiple pathways to demonstrate readiness for college, career and life after high school.

Like Pennsylvania, South Dakota plans to use its accountability system to achieve this vision. The state aims to refine it college and career readiness indicator, originally adopted in the 2012-13 school year, to value learners who graduate ready for both college and careers. The indicator includes two metrics — assessment of readiness and progress toward a post high school credential  that count students completing advanced coursework such as CTE, AP and dual credit as well as those earning passing scores on college entrance examinations.

What is notable about South Dakota’s ESSA plan is that CTE is drawn out as a strategy throughout different parts of the plan, illustrating the extent to which CTE is core to South Dakota’s vision. For one, South Dakota plans to provide technical assistance to schools identified for comprehensive or targeted support and improvement to help them develop and expand high-quality CTE pathways. The justification for this strategy is that CTE students have higher graduation rates. Additionally, South Dakota aims to launch pilot schools that provide work-based learning experience, early postsecondary opportunities and robust career guidance and supports for students. And, under Title IV, Part A (the new Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants), South Dakota plans to set aside state funds to help local education agencies expand high-quality CTE pathways.

ESSA gives states a clear opening to reorganize their priorities and vision for K-12 education. Newfound flexibility under the law allows for state-appropriate strategies that reflect stakeholder input and are aligned with other statewide initiatives. However, ESSA plans will only be as effective as states make them. By setting clear goals and connecting efforts and strategies, states can organize their ESSA implementation efforts to support career readiness and success.

Austin Estes, Policy Associate

States Pave Way for More Flexible, Integrated Pathways to Graduation

July 21st, 2017

Putting Learner Success First: A Shared Vision for the Future of CTE reinforces the principle that all learning should be personalized and flexible. Education should meet learners where they’re at, allowing them to pursue pathways and experiences aligned to their career interests. To that end, a number of states this summer have taken steps to expand flexible pathways to graduation by amending graduation requirements and exploring opportunities to enhance career advisement and integrate workforce skills throughout the K-12 curriculum.

In Connecticut, for example, Governor Dannel Malloy signed SB1026, amending graduation requirements set to take effect this year. Those requirements were adopted in 2010 in an effort to raise expectations, but were too prescriptive in terms of which courses learners would need to take to graduate. Specifically, the requirements increased the minimum number of credits needed to graduate from 20 to 25 and specified that students would need to earn eight credits in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), nine credits in humanities, three in career and life skills, and three and a half in other areas, including a senior demonstration project.

The new law makes some changes to the required number of credits but ultimately provides school districts and learners more flexibility on the path to graduation. For one, students will now be required to earn nine, not eight, credits in STEM, but local school boards have the liberty to choose which courses qualify. Additionally, the law gives students the option to receive credit by demonstrating subject matter competency through alternative means, such as work-based learning, Career Technical Education (CTE), virtual learning and more. And instead of the senior demonstration project, learners must complete a mastery-based diploma assessment.

Washington Takes Credit Equivalencies Statewide

Over on the west coast, Washington State’s budget for the 2017-19 biennium includes provisions to accelerate the state’s ongoing credit equivalency work. Under the enacted budget, the Superintendent of Public Instruction is directed to help expand and support the implementation of course equivalency credits statewide. This builds upon an ongoing state effort to streamline graduation pathways and allow students to earn math and science credit by demonstrating competency through technical coursework. Since 2015, the State Board of Education has established course equivalency frameworks for 32 courses, including the Core Plus curriculum, a model developed in partnership with the Boeing company to help students develop knowledge and skills in manufacturing.

Additionally, the budget provides for a competitive grant fund to help school districts implement the course equivalency frameworks, such as by developing rigorous assessments, raising awareness and providing professional development for educators.

Rethinking Education and Workforce Development in Idaho, Michigan and California

Meanwhile, efforts are underway in Idaho, Michigan and California to align K-12 education with workforce development priorities. In Idaho, Governor Butch Otter’s Workforce Development Task Force, launched by executive order in January, released its findings and recommendations from a five-month study into the state’s workforce development needs. Among the task force’s recommendations are strategies to connect K-12 education to career pathways, strengthen career advisement in the state, expand CTE programs and apprenticeships, and incentivize schools to integrate workforce skills into secondary curricula.

In Michigan, the Career Pathways Alliance —  a Governor-led, cross-sector effort — released a series of 16 recommendations to dramatically strengthen career preparation at the secondary level. Proposals range from continuing a statewide communications campaign to enhancing career counseling efforts and introducing more flexibility into the Michigan graduation standards, an effort currently making its way through the state legislature. While many of the Alliance’s recommendations require legislative approval, State Superintendent Brian Whiston issued a directive immediately after the recommendations were released to begin implementing some of the strategies.  

Meanwhile, California is taking steps to develop and integrate computer science standards into K-12 curricula. The state’s budget directs the superintendent to convene a Computer Science Strategic Implementation Advisory Panel to provide recommendations for implementing K-12 computer science standards. Specifically, the panel’s recommendations, which are due to the superintendent by July 2019, will address professional development for teachers, define principles for meeting the needs of K-12 students, and identify strategies to expand access to computer science education.

Austin Estes, Policy Associate

How Career Readiness Fared in the First ESSA State Plans

July 6th, 2017

On December 10, 2015, the day he signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law, President Barack Obama praised the bill, saying “I’m proud to sign a law that’s going to make sure that every student is prepared to succeed in the 21st century.” ESSA did provide a much-needed upgrade to the nation’s largest K-12 education program, adopting measures to ensure all learners would be prepared for success. But now that the first 16 states and D.C. have submitted their ESSA plans for review, are they taking full advantage of the opportunities to prepare students for life after high school?

Today Advance CTE and the Education Strategy Group released a new brief examining where and how career readiness shows up in the first 17 ESSA plans. The brief finds that, while more than half plan to adopt measures of career readiness in their accountability systems, many states missed an opportunity to fully leverage ESSA to advance a statewide vision of career readiness.

The primary area where career readiness shows up in round 1 ESSA plans is in state accountability systems. Under ESSA, state leaders have broad flexibility to identify the appropriate metrics and methodology to hold schools accountable for student success. Specifically, ESSA’s fifth indicator, a state-selected measure of “school quality or student success,” enables states to innovate in selecting a measure that best values their priorities. Among other measures, states were encouraged to examine advanced coursework and postsecondary success.

In total, 11 out of the first 17 submitted plans identified at least one measure of career readiness in their accountability systems. In Nevada, for example, the state plans to measure the number of students completing postsecondary pathway options such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or industry-aligned and state board-approved credentials. North Dakota, on the other hand, aims to track the number of students graduating “choice-ready,” or prepared for success in college, military or the workforce. The state’s career ready pathway identifies students who complete certain career preparation activities — including work-based learning, Career Technical Education (CTE) pathway completion and industry credential attainment — on top of core academic achievements.

Yet, when it came to other areas of the law, many states missed the opportunity to further a statewide vision for career readiness. Despite what they said in their goals and accountability systems, many state plans were light on details about how they would support local districts to advance career readiness. Only five states identified state-level activities under Title IV, Part A (Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants) to support career readiness, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and/or dual enrollment. These included Connecticut, which plans to provide technical assistance to districts building new CTE pathways and increasing work-based learning opportunities, and Nevada, which plans to braid funding across Title programs to help districts engage families and facilitate a deeper understanding of a well-rounded education, including enrollment in advanced coursework such as CTE. (Most states listed CTE and other strategies as a state support for well-rounded education, but fell short of describing how ESSA would be used to expand these strategies).

Needless to stay, there is still time to promote career readiness through implementation. In the spirit of flexibility, the U.S. Department of Education’s requirements for ESSA plan submissions were incredibly tolerant, allowing states to describe in loose terms how they planned to implement the law. While state plans were light on details, supporting career preparation was a major theme surfaced through many states’ stakeholder engagement. It is possible that state leaders will yet be responsive to this feedback and find ways to strengthen career readiness beyond accountability.

For the 34 states planning to submit their plans in September, now is the time to ensure career readiness is prioritized. ESSA was designed to create space and flexibility for states to advance their own needs and priorities. But if it is truly going to prepare all students for success in the 21st century, states must maximize every opportunity to connect ESSA to their statewide vision for career readiness.

For more, join Advance CTE on July 20 for a webinar unpacking trends from the brief and highlighting strategies to leverage ESSA in support of career readiness. The webinar, titled Connecting ESSA to Your State’s Vision for Career Readiness, will take place from 1-2pm ET. Register here.

Austin Estes, Policy Associate and Kate Kreamer, Deputy Executive Director

Illinois, Missouri and Pennsylvania Adopt New Policies to Help Learners Graduate Career Ready

June 27th, 2017

Long after the tassels are turned, the podiums are packed away, and the diplomas framed and positioned on the wall, state policymakers are hard at work devising new policies to help the next class of high school students graduate career ready. Whether through career readiness expectations,  Career Technical Education (CTE) graduation endorsements or alternative CTE graduation pathways, helping learners build the skills they need to be successful in their future careers is a priority for policymakers in Illinois, Missouri and Pennsylvania.

In Illinois, a new Postsecondary and Career Expectations (PaCE) framework comes on the heels of 2016’s Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act. That legislation, designed to enhance the Illinois education system to better prepare learners for college and the workforce, adopted a number of strategies including a competency-based learning pilot, college and career pathway endorsements, and supports for educators and district leaders. Specifically, the law directed the Illinois State Board of Education and other state agencies to identify expectations for students between grades 8 through 12 to be prepared for success after high school. Under the law, these expectations would need to focus on career exploration and development; postsecondary institution exploration, preparation and selection; and financial aid and financial literacy.

Earlier this month, the Illinois State Board of Education formally released the newly-developed PaCE framework, outlining guidelines for college- and career-focused activities at each grade level. Many expectations are aligned to a student’s self-identified career pathway. By the end of 10th grade, for example, students are expected to participate in a mock interview, create a sample resume, and identify an internship opportunity related to their career pathway. However, career exploration is emphasized in earlier grades through Career ClusterⓇ interest surveys and career exploration days. Though use of the framework is voluntary, it is designed to empower local educators and administrators to better target supports to students to ensure they are on track for success after graduation.

Missouri’s New CTE Diploma Endorsement Celebrates Student Achievement

Meanwhile, the Missouri State Board of Education outlined requirements for the state’s new CTE graduation certificate. The certificate program, authorized under 2016’s SB620, is designed to recognize the value add that CTE provides, helping equip students with the technical and employability skills to be more competitive in both college and the workforce. The legislature specifically called on the State Board of Education to work with local school districts to ensure the certificate program does not incentivize tracking, or “separating pupils by academic ability into groups for all subjects or certain classes and curriculum.” Rather, the legislation emphasizes program quality, encouraging local school districts to rely on industry-recognized standards, skills assessments and certificates.

In June, the Missouri State Board of Education finalized requirements for a CTE diploma to recognize students who, in addition to completing their core graduation requirements, focus in a CTE area of study. True to the intent of the law, the requirements above all emphasize achievement. Students are only eligible to receive a CTE endorsement if they, among other requirements, maintain a 3.0 GPA in their CTE concentration, earn an industry-recognized credential or a passing score on a technical skills assessment, complete at least 50 hours of work-based learning, and maintain an attendance record of at least 95 percent throughout high school. By prioritizing student success and achievement, Missouri’s CTE diploma requirements appropriately recognize that CTE enhances the traditional high school experience.

Alternative Assessments for CTE Concentrators in Pennsylvania

Finally, CTE students in Pennsylvania will have more flexible pathways to graduation after lawmakers amended a yet-to-be-implemented examination requirement. The change comes in response to a 2014 State Board of Education rule that required students to pass Keystone examinations in Algebra I, Biology and Literature before graduating. Although the requirement was scheduled to apply statewide for the graduating class of 2017, the legislature last year decided to delay implementation to give the Department of Education enough time to identify alternative assessment opportunities for CTE students.

Under the original policy, students who failed to pass the Keystone examinations could demonstrate competency through project-based assessments in order to meet graduation requirements. However, with low Keystone pass rates and high participation in the burdensome project-based assessment alternatives, the legislature soon realized that additional options needed to be explored.

The new law, HB202, provides CTE concentrators an exemption to the Keystone graduation requirement if they 1) complete grade-based academic requirements and 2) either complete an industry-based certification or demonstrate likelihood of success based on benchmark assessments, course grades and other factors. To meet the industry-based certification requirement, CTE concentrators will be able to choose among state-approved credentials in their area of focus, including National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) and National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) examinations.  

While alternative graduation pathways that recognize learners’ career goals help to expand options for high school students, it is important that academic rigor is not the price of flexibility. Graduation requirements should continue to be rigorous and ambitious to ensure all learners are set up for success after graduation, whether they choose to pursue college or careers. The Pennsylvania Department of Education can continue to uphold rigor in CTE programs by ensuring that grade-based academic requirements and selected industry-based certifications are high quality and appropriately reflect the competencies learners need to be successful regardless of their chosen pathway. 

Meanwhile other states have adopted new policies related to CTE and career readiness, including:

  • In May the Texas state legislature passed SB22, establishing a statewide Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program. Starting fall 2017, districts and open enrollment charter schools will be able to apply for startup funding to establish a P-TECH program, which allows learners to graduate in six years with an associate’s degree or two-year postsecondary certificate and work-based learning experience.
  • Minnesota’s omnibus higher education appropriations bill for the 2018-19 biennium established a $1 million Workforce Development Scholarship pilot program and provides funding to develop new concurrent enrollment courses.
  • Vermont passed an economic development bill that, among other things, establishes a Career Pathways Coordinator position within the Agency of Education to serve as a point person for interagency efforts to develop curriculum and design statewide career pathways.

Austin Estes, Policy Associate

Despite Federal Budget Constraints, States Forge Ahead with ESSA Planning

June 5th, 2017

Earlier this year, 16 states and the District of Columbia submitted plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to the Department of Education, detailing strategies to strengthen standards, accountability, teacher effectiveness and student supports. Since then, the remaining 34 states have continued work drafting their own plans. Despite uncertainty from Washington, DC, states such as New York and California are taking advantage of ESSA’s increased flexibility to promote career readiness, specifically through new accountability systems.

Despite lawmakers’ intentions to expand local flexibility, state planning has been somewhat constrained by the federal budget process. In May, Congress approved a budget for Fiscal Year 2017 that fell short of the authorized funding for certain ESSA programs. Specifically, the Title IV-A Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant program — which consolidated a basket of categorically-funded initiatives in order to expand state flexibility — was funded at only $400 million for the year, far short of the authorized $1.6 billion (the program is eliminated entirely under the President’s proposed FY18 budget). As such, lawmakers decided to give states the option to distribute grants competitively rather than through a formula, as is prescribed in the law. It is not year clear if states will take this opportunity, though switching to a competition may discourage smaller districts from applying.

Under ESSA, at least 95 percent of SSAE funds are to be awarded to local education agencies for one of three priorities: supporting a well-rounded education, fostering a safe and healthy school climate and providing for the effective use of technology. These funds can be used to strengthen or enhance local Career Technical Education (CTE) programs, which are covered under the statutory definition of “well-rounded education.” Although funds go primarily to the local level, states have leeway to signal how they should be used. They can also expend state set-aside funds under Title IV-A to administer technical assistance in certain priority areas. While SSAE grants provide a clear leverage point to promote CTE statewide, many states are approaching the opportunity with caution, leaving it up to local education agencies to determine how such funds will be spent.

In the Wake of April’s Submission Window, Five States — Including New York and California — Release Draft Plans

In addition to the 16 states and D.C. that submitted plans during the first window, another 20 states have released draft plans or guidelines as of June 2017. The newest states to release draft plans include Arkansas, California, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. Below we examine different approaches that New York and California are taking to leverage ESSA in support of statewide career readiness.

New York’s Plan Envisions Success in College, Careers and Citizenship

Building on the state’sgraduation pathways work, one of the key threads throughout New York’s first ESSA state plan draft is ensuring all students graduate “prepared for success in postsecondary education, careers, and citizenship.” The plan envisions a K-12 system that provides rigorous instruction, positive learning environments, and appropriate opportunities and supports so that all students can succeed.

One area in the plan where this priority is reflected is the state’s accountability system, which adopts a measure of College, Career and Civic Readiness as one of two School Quality and Student Success indicators at the high school level. ESSA requires states to adopt at least five accountability indicators, four that are loosely prescribed and a fifth measure of school quality that is up to a state’s choosing. As we’ve reported in the past, many states are seizing the opportunity to measure not only college preparedness but career readiness as well.

In New York’s case, the proposed College, Career and Civic Readiness Index encourages both college and career preparation and awards bonus points for students who surpass the minimum Regents or Local Diploma requirements. Under the proposal, schools will receive full points for students who earn a standard diploma, an additional half point for students who enroll in Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or dual credit courses, and a full two points for students earning a CTE endorsement, an industry-recognized credential or a passing score on an AP or IB exam (among other options).

Furthermore, the plan explicitly encourages local education agencies to use SSAE grants to offer multiple pathways to graduation and career readiness. The state plans to use up to 4 percent of its permitted set-aside funds to support local education agencies to implement this, and other, priorities. And while the plan is light on details, the state promises to support student access to extra-curricular opportunities, including “community-based internships and … sports and arts.” New York’s state plan is still in the public comment stage and subject to change prior to the September submission deadline.

In California, Local Control Accountability Plans Will Drive ESSA Implementation

California meanwhile is approaching ESSA’s increased flexibility as an opportunity to supplement ongoing state efforts. In 2013, the Golden State transformed the way it funds education using a Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) to consolidate state education funding and empower local education agencies to create and implement their own strategic priorities. Under the policy, local districts are required to create Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAP) to set goals and plan their delivery strategies. Additionally, California last year adopted a new multi-measure accountability system aligned to the LCFF to hold local districts accountable for using state education funds effectively. Just this year the state Department of Education released a school accountability dashboard that illustrates student performance on a variety of different measures.

California’s state plan proposes to use LCFF as a vehicle to implement ESSA. The plan, appropriately titled “The California Way,” proposes to map local ESSA planning efforts against the current LCAP to create a “single, coherent system that avoids the complexities of having separate state and federal accountability structures.” Local education agencies will submit an LCAP addendum as a supplement to address additional requirements under ESSA.

So how will California’s ESSA plan support career readiness? For one, the current accountability system includes a career and college readiness index. Interestingly, and unlike most other state proposals thus far, the index will count toward the state’s academic success indicator, along with student performance and growth on assessments. While the State Board of Education has blessed the indicator, it has yet to determine how it will be measured. Current considerations include dual enrollment, AP exam performance, IB exam performance and CTE pathway completion. Additionally, California’s plan points to other recent initiatives — such as the state’s three-year, $900 million CTE Incentive Grant Program — that are designed to enhance and expand regional CTE pathways in the state.

What New York’s and California’s ESSA state plans tell us is that states are taking full advantage of newfound flexibility to align federal initiatives with their own efforts. In the case of California and New York, both states have undergone work in recent years to revise graduation and accountability policy to better promote career readiness in high school. Others should consider how to align opportunities under ESSA to support their own state and local initiatives.

Austin Estes, Policy Associate

Tennessee Expands Access to Community College for Adult Learners

May 30th, 2017

Image Credit: https://twitter.com/GreeneSun/status/867755597755805696/photo/1

This month Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s vision for increasing postsecondary credential attainment in his state came one step closer to reality. On May 24, Gov. Haslam signed the Tennessee Reconnect Act into law, providing tuition scholarships for adult learners to access one of the state’s many community colleges and Colleges of Applied Technology. The Reconnect Act, a core piece of the Governor’s 2017 state of the state address, will be available to eligible non-degree holding adult students who are admitted into qualifying postsecondary institutions beginning in the fall of 2018.

The program is expected to have a substantial impact. The Tennessee General Assembly Fiscal Review Committee estimates that 5,503 additional part-time students and 4,102 full-time students will be eligible to receive the grant award in Fiscal Year 2018-19, at an estimated cost of $8.5 million.

Expanding access to postsecondary education and training has been a priority for Gov. Haslam during his tenure. In 2014, Tennessee launched the Tennessee Promise program, a last-dollar tuition scholarship that has seen tremendous growth and success since it was proposed in 2014. The state is seen as a pioneer in expanding access to free community college.

Separately, Gov. Haslam approved bills

Coming Soon to Iowa Schools: New K-12 Computer Science Pathways

Meanwhile, Iowa passed a law to enhance digital literacy with new K-12 computer science standards and funding for teacher professional development. The legislature’s goal is that by July 2019, all elementary, middle and high schools in the state will offer some form of computer science instruction. The bill directs the Department of Education to establish a computer science education workgroup to put together a plan to adopt new graduation requirements, integrate computer science instruction into CTE pathways and develop new K-12 computer science pathways.

Additionally, the law establishes a computer science professional development incentive fund, which Governor Terry Branstad has proposed to fund at $500,000 in his 2019 budget. The fund is designed to help school districts pay for teachers to get additional training on computer science.

South Dakota Approves CTE Standards in Six Clusters

Speaking of standards, the South Dakota Board of Education voted in its May meeting to adopt new Career Technical Education (CTE) standards in six Career Clusters®: Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources; Arts, Audio-Video Technology and Communications; Finance; Health Science; Human Services; and Manufacturing. The standards were developed by workgroups of secondary CTE teachers, postsecondary faculty, industry representatives and others. Standards for five additional Career Clusters® will be developed later this summer.

Austin Estes, Policy Associate

States Enhancing Career Preparation through Work-based Learning, Accountability and Graduation Pathways

May 11th, 2017

It is possible that 2017 will be a pivotal year for Career Technical Education (CTE). With planning underway to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and a bill to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 recently introduced in the House, states are taking advantage of a policy window to advance new legislation and enhance CTE quality. 

At the moment, Advance CTE is tracking more than 200 bills, regulations and actions across the states that are relevant to the CTE community. Although it is too early to identify major trends — or even know for certain if the proposals we are tracking will ever cross the finish line — what is clear is that there is an evident and growing interest in strengthening CTE at the state level. Recently, new laws in Maryland, Indiana and Arizona aim to strengthen apprenticeships, accountability and alternative pathways to graduation.

Maryland Aims to Expand Apprenticeships and Measure Completion through Accountability System

In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan approved the More Jobs for Marylanders Act of 2017. A jobs Act, the legislation aims to strengthen the state workforce by

  • issuing up to $2,000 each for eligible students enrolled in workforce development sequence programs, and
  • allowing eligible employers to claim up to $1,000 in tax credits for each approved apprentice they employ.

Additionally, the law requires the state board of education to establish career readiness performance goals for CTE program completion, industry-recognized credential attainment and completion of a registered or youth apprenticeship. The state board must also work on a method to value apprenticeship completion in the state accountability system. Under the legislature’s recommendations, completion of a state-approved apprenticeship would be valued the same as earning a 3 or higher on an Advanced Placement exam.

The More Jobs for Marylanders Act is part of Gov. Hogan’s Maryland Jobs Initiative, which aims to strengthen Maryland’s workforce and create new jobs. Under the initiative, Gov. Hogan also plans to expand Maryland’s Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) program, which was launched last year with the opening of two locations in Baltimore. Another bill passed by the legislature this year specifies requirements for the program and establishes a planning grant to help districts design and launch P-TECH programs.

Arizona State Board Approves Seventeen Measures of College and Career Readiness

Over in the Grand Canyon State, the Arizona State Board of Education approved a comprehensive (albeit somewhat confusing) college and career readiness indicator to include in the state’s accountability system. The indicator (details start on p. 75 of the state board’s meeting minutes) will make up 20 percent of the overall accountability score and will include no less than seventeen separate measures of college and career readiness. Measures will include (but are not limited to)

  • industry-recognized credential attainment,
  • work-based learning completion,
  • completion of a CTE sequence, and
  • aligned technical skills assessment.

The indicator will also include college readiness measures such as earning a passing score on the SAT or earning dual credit. The total college and career readiness score for a school will be calculated across the entire graduating student cohort, with schools able to earn additional points for students who complete both college and career readiness activities.

Indiana Students Will Have More Graduation Options Starting in 2018

Meanwhile, Indiana’s newly-elected Governor Eric Holcomb ushered in a few CTE reforms during his inaugural legislative session. SB198 restructures the state’s CTE funding schedule using a three-tiered classification system that recognizes wages and industry demand for the specified pathway. The law requires the Department of Workforce Development to set the wage threshold and classify the types of CTE programs eligible to receive funding at each level.

Furthermore, the bill creates a pilot program to integrate career exploration activities into the eighth grade curriculum using the state’s Career Explorer system. The program will be piloted in 15 schools, with the aim of expanding statewide beginning in the 2018-19 school year.  

Gov. Holcomb also signed HB1003, which, in addition to replacing the state’s ISTEP test with a new program (ILEARN will be implemented in the 2018-19 school year), establishes alternative pathways to graduation. Starting June 30, 2018, students that meet the Indiana Core 40 requirements and demonstrate college and career readiness — to be determined by the state board of education — will be eligible to receive a high school diploma. Previously, students were required to complete a graduation examination. Former State Superintendent Glenda Ritz praised the measure, saying it would give “students many options to achieve an Indiana diploma tailored to their graduation goals.”

Austin Estes, Policy Associate

In Kentucky and Arkansas, Lawmakers Authorize New ESSA Accountability Plans

April 13th, 2017

Education Week last month reported that “as state legislative sessions forge ahead, you’ll start to see states’ Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability plans vetted by lawmakers as the new law requires.” This is partly a result of statutory requirements in the law that mandate consultation with the governor and members of the state legislature. But it is also due to the fact that many state ESSA plans promise changes to assessments, accountability and standards that must be made by the legislature or state board of education.

With the first submission window for ESSA state plans now officially open, implementation of the new federal law has been top of mind for many states. As they finalize their ESSA plans, state policymakers have been working in parallel to implement core strategies within their education systems.

Kentucky Plans to Measure Industry Credential Attainment

In Kentucky, for example, Governor Matt Bevin signed a revised state accountability system into law. While Kentucky has been recognized as a leader in career readiness accountability — the state’s Unbridled Learning system uses a weighted point system that values college and career achievement equally — SB1 applies a fresh coat of paint, aligning the system with ESSA requirements and recalibrating the weighted point system to better incentivize relevant career learning experiences. Namely, the law:

  • Adopts a “Postsecondary Readiness” indicator measuring apprenticeship participation and achievement of industry-recognized credentials in addition to college credit, performance on college admissions exams and concurrent enrollment.
  • Directs the Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board and the Department of Education to annually produce a list of industry-recognized credentials eligible for credit under the accountability system. Credentials are to be identified by local workforce investment boards and weighted according to industry demand.
  • Eliminates inclusion of the WorkKeys career readiness assessment in the accountability system.

Arkansas Provides Accountability Guidelines for Department of Education

Meanwhile, Arkansas lawmakers passed — and Governor Asa Hutchinson signed — a law authorizing the Department of Education to develop a state accountability system and providing certain guidelines. The law largely mirrors the requirements set forth in ESSA, which requires state to report indicators related to academic performance, growth, graduation rates and English Learner progress. But lawmakers also provided nine suggested indicators for the Department of Education to consider, including one measure of the percent of students earning Advanced Placement credit, concurrent credit, International Baccalaureate credit or industry-recognized credentials.

If the Arkansas Department of Education chooses to pursue this route, it will join several other states that are considering career readiness indicators in their statewide accountability systems. As we shared last week, about half of states planning to submit ESSA plans during the first review window are considering career readiness indicators, including measures of industry credential attainment.

Other CTE-Related Legislation Hitting Governors’ Desks this Session

ESSA-related legislation is inching along in other state houses nationwide. In the meantime, state lawmakers have kept themselves busy, continuing a years-long trend to strengthen and scale relevant career pathways. Though this list is not exhaustive, here is a snapshot of what states have passed so far in the 2017 legislative session:

  • Idaho and Utah saw increases in state-appropriated funding for CTE.
  • Two bills passed in Virginia will allow school districts to waive certain CTE teacher licensure requirements and require community colleges to accept credit for state-approved apprenticeships.
  • Arkansas’ new Future Grant program repurposes $8.2 million to cover two years of tuition and fees for Arkansas students to study at a state technical or community college, provided that their course of study is in a high-demand field and they elect to work in the state for three years after graduating.
  • South Dakota voted to reorganize the state technical college system under the authority of a new Board of Technical Education, following through on a ballot mandate approved by voters in November.

Austin Estes, Policy Associate

 

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