Getting To Know: Advance CTE’s Initiatives to Improve CTE Data Quality

The “Getting to Know” blog series will feature the work of State CTE Directors, state and federal policies, innovative programs and new initiatives from the Advance CTE staff. Learn more about each one of these topics and the unique contributions to advancing Career Technical Education (CTE) that Advance CTE’s members work on every day.

Meet Austin Estes! Austin is the Manager of Data and Research at Advance CTE. Austin oversees Advance CTE’s strategy for data quality and effective use. In this role, he supports state CTE leaders by developing resources, reports and tools and delivering technical assistance to help improve policy and practice related to CTE data.
During his time at Advance CTE, Austin has led efforts related to rural CTE, work-based learning, equity in CTE, industry-recognized credentials and accountability.

Q: Through your work at Advance CTE, what are some barriers states face when effectively reporting data?

A: First and foremost is getting access to good, quality data. We surveyed the State CTE Directors back in 2018 and found that, while many of them are able to collect and report the required indicators for Perkins, there are challenges with validating the data with administrative records. A lot of data is self reported, and it can be really challenging to link learner-level data across education levels to see where learners end up after they complete their programs. The findings from that survey are published in our report The State of Career Technical Education: Improving Data Quality and Effectiveness

Another big challenge is using and communicating data effectively. Some states like Kentucky are doing really great work putting data to use. The Kentucky Center for Statistics has developed really powerful CTE feedback reports and other data tools, and has worked with the Kentucky Department of Education to train different stakeholders to understand and use these data assets. But this takes a lot of work and time. Late last year Advance CTE, in partnership with the Association for Career and Technical Education, developed a set of design principles and a communications toolkit to help state leaders develop effective reporting tools and tell the story behind their data. These resources will be particularly useful as states begin to share out their Perkins V data.

Q: How does Advance CTE work to improve CTE data quality?

A: Our team is working on two major efforts right now to improve CTE data quality. The first is the development of a comprehensive policy benchmark tool for data quality. The tool is designed to help state leaders evaluate the design and effectiveness of their career readiness data ecosystem and identify action steps to improve the quality and use of data. The tool will be released as an interactive microsite in February and was developed with input from some of the smartest thought leaders working at the state and national level. 

The second effort is the Advancing Postsecondary CTE Data Quality Initiative, or PDI for short. With support from ECMC Foundation, Advance CTE is working closely with a cohort of states to implement innovative strategies to improve CTE data quality at the postsecondary level. Lessons from the PDI will be shared out more broadly through a postsecondary data community of practice and through resources and publications. 

Q: What is the parallel between effective data reporting and high-quality CTE for each learner – of any background, age and zip code?

A: I think it’s important first of all to acknowledge the distinction between data and insights. You can have all the data in the world, but if you can’t make sense of it and use it to improve policy and practice, it’s worthless. State leaders have a critical role to play in ensuring that practitioners and policymakers can make meaning of their data and use their data to improve CTE program quality and equity. 

One example of this is conducting a proportionality analysis to compare enrollment in CTE programs to the overall learner population. If one out of 10 students in a high school is classified as a learner with disabilities, but only one out of 20 CTE students is, then you might want to adopt new recruitment strategies to minimize barriers to accessing CTE for learners with disabilities. This is just one example of how data can lead to insights, which can inform action.

Brittany Cannady, Digital Media Associate



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