Posts Tagged ‘Data Literacy’

Realizing CTE Without Limits: An Interview with Colorado State CTE Director Dr. Sarah Heath

Wednesday, March 27th, 2024

This month, Advance CTE celebrates the 3 year anniversary of the release of Without Limits: A Shared Vision for the Future of Career Technical Education (CTE Without Limits), supported by over 40 national organizations. As part of the celebration, Advance CTE is highlighting the initiatives, outcomes and lessons learned of current and former states who have participated in technical assistance opportunities to conduct the challenging but necessary work to fully realize the vision in their state. 

Senior Director of Policy Nithya Govindasamy interviewed Colorado State CTE Director Sarah Heath to revisit the impact of technical assistance on realizing a more cohesive, flexible, and responsive career preparation ecosystem. 

How has the CTE Without Limits influenced the mindset and priorities for CTE in your state? 

CTE Without Limits has influenced the mindset and priorities in Colorado in terms of alignment. Our team has examined our goals and determined how we can better serve learners and how we can get learners ready for things that are connected geographically. 

CTE Without Limits has also been central to goals and actions that can be taken to infuse the principles in the Perkins State Plan and strategic plan to ultimately support local leaders and educators. In Colorado, we are trying to connect the principles in the vision and the foundational commitments when evaluating our current goals and the gaps in our goals. We have used it to “check ourselves” and integrated it to support our stakeholder outreach and continue to use it as a bar and checkpoint.

What do you consider your state’s most impactful work in progress as a result of the CTE Without Limits vision? 

For Colorado, the most impactful work has occurred in our equity-centered work, specifically empowering locals through the Comprehensive Local Needs Assessment (CLNA) and tying it to CTE Without Limits through the Opportunity Gap Analysis (OGA). In particular, we’ve focused on sub-populations indicators and “checking ourselves” to ensure we were not being too generic in measuring success. Principle 2: Each learner feels welcome in, is supported by, and has the means to succeed in the career preparation ecosystem, pushed us to identify tangible tools to help locals; it also pushed our state team to view data differently and get comfortable with data. Tools like the heat map ease people into the work without the “equity stigma”. 

We are also using tools to analyze local performance and to inform local decision making. For example the OGA data was linked to school performance frameworks and school finance to show the intersections. We are training principals and need to train middle-management leaders in our schools to help them to make data-driven decisions to help all learners be successful. 

In Colorado, working directly with locals to be more impactful has been a priority. We held a session about this work at CACTA (Colorado Association for Career and Technical Administrators, the Admin Division of ACTE in Colorado), where the designated CTE Directors attend for each district and they are empowered to engage the principals. Rural school districts are supported by Boards of Cooperative Educational Services or BOCES (typically fiscal agents for Perkins) and each have a Superintendent Council, so our team has taken the opportunity to use their meeting structure and support to offer more CTE services. 

Additionally, Colorado has taken a “near-peer approach” and is leveraging the relationships with the BOCES and helping the state team connect with local leaders who are not always the designated CTE Director. The Colorado CTE Team is also reflecting on their experiences to ensure the best presenter or connector is available to support these cohorts. For example, the state Program Director for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy was a principal in a rural school district prior to being on the Colorado CTE Team so it makes perfect sense to connect her to projects where we are expanding the knowledge of our local principals in how to connect CTE data to their school performance data and goal setting.  

Colorado participated in the inaugural cohort to provide vision-related technical assistance to states. What is one part of that work (highlighted here) that you have been able to build upon over the past year, and how?

Of the work highlighted in last year’s blog, we focused on Goal 3: “Building Local Leader Data Literacy: Leverage Advance CTE’s Opportunity Gap Analysis (OGA) process to increase data literacy of local CTE administrators and educators and in doing so improve data-focused storytelling of learners’ outcome and identification of program participation and success gaps.” In order to increase the data literacy of locals and teachers, we are offering professional development with a panel of local CTE directors. We are using the CLNA and OGA for action planning, and conducted needs assessment in-person during a statewide CTE roadshow. 

In terms of what is next for us, we are intentionally incorporating learner voice into our work. We are focused on “how are we empowering local leaders and their data literacy” and helping them with storytelling. For example, our CTE concentrator graduation rate is 98% while our overall Colorado high school graduation rate is 83%. Elevating these data points and integrating into our storytelling on the local level will assist in destigmatizing CTE. CTE is being seen all over Colorado as a new strategic move in high school education. We are seeing Designed Career and Technical high schools being built in school districts who market their four-year college going culture.  We are seeing most districts “up” their CTE programs and want to better serve learners across the board by offering multiple off ramps from industry credentials, Apprenticeship, and college credit.

We’ve been able to engage with families by going to the PTA conference and enhancing their data literacy. We are working with the entire ecosystem to empower local leaders, administrators, principals, parents/guardians, family members and learners and “empower” local communities by equipping them with better information to make more informed decisions. We are also helping connect education to the overall ecosystem through regional level conversations about industry needs and alignment. 

What resources or support has been most helpful in moving this work and mindset forward? 

For the Colorado team, the technical assistance and the actual resources, such as the Pushing the Limits Roadmap, has been the most helpful. We have used this resource to develop goals, to conduct an assessment of our current system, and develop an action plan. The tools were helpful in identifying the areas that need to be improved and we were able to use the tool to help locals assess their own system. 

Another helpful resource was the With Learners, Not for Learners: A Toolkit for Elevating Learner Voice in CTE. We walked through the toolkit and tackled issues such as not “tokenizing” learners by just having them on advisory committees. 

Having the tools, resources and support was definitely helpful when determining how to use the various pieces to help locals. 

What principles and areas of work connected to the vision are you planning to focus on this year? 

Colorado is currently focused on Principle 4: Each learner’s skills are counted, valued, and portable. We are centering this mindset in our work by leaning into Credit for Prior Learning (CPL), portable credit and policy change and matrix, faculty qualifications, and counting all learning that happens. In 2020, Colorado passed HB 20-1002, which enables students and adults to earn postsecondary credit for prior work experience, including work-based learning. A landscape report on CPL was released in 2021 that guides our work:

Through our team that supports concurrent enrollment as well as our work on the Colorado “Student Bill of Rights”, we are working to ensure learners are receiving the correct credit for earned Industry Recognized Credentials when they matriculate to an institution of higher education as well as their  CTE high school experiences, even if it does not include concurrent enrollment, and assisting learners with understanding how to link these experiences to their college credits through articulation.

Colorado’s Governor has set a Skills-Based hiring expectation and as a team, we are using this expectation to help our employers who serve on our CTE advisory committees better understand how to post jobs to ensure they are attracting talent based on their skills. 

Additional Resources

To learn about how to begin implementing CTE Without Limits in your state or community, read Colorado, Nebraska, and South Carolina’s origin and impact journeys so far.. Resources to learn about and implement the vision can be found on our CTE Without Limits webpage

Nithya Govindasamy, Senior Director of Policy

By Stacy Whitehouse in CTE Without Limits
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

ECMCF Fellow Feature: Jomarie Coloriano

Friday, October 27th, 2023

In September 2022, Advance CTE and ECMC Foundation announced the second cohort of The Postsecondary State Career Technical Education (CTE) Leaders Fellowship at Advance CTE—Sponsored by ECMC Foundation. The Advance CTE — ECMCF Fellows include representation across multiple demographic categories reflecting the Fellowship’s goal of intentionally building a postsecondary leadership pipeline for underserved populations in Career Technical Education (CTE) that closes racial representation gaps and removes equity barriers to postsecondary leadership advancement. 

This month, we’re excited to highlight two members of Advance CTE’s second cohort of Postsecondary State CTE Leaders Fellows. ECMCF Fellow Jomarie Coloriano (WI) is using her new position to design and implement policies that are already improving outcomes for learners in her community.

Tell me more about your journey to the Fellowship.

I would describe my journey to the Fellowship as a happy accident, but one that has been profoundly meaningful. An email about the Fellowship came across my inbox, and it was at a time in my life when I was seeking opportunities to further challenge myself within Career Technical Education (CTE). I went to the website to learn more about the experiences of the first cohort, but I didn’t think I’d had enough relevant experience to be a competitive candidate for the second cohort. I was elated when I received my offer to join the Fellowship, but was immediately anxious about balancing working full-time, my doctoral coursework and this Fellowship. Looking back now, I am so thankful that I took the leap to apply and accept my offer. Being able to connect with so many other professionals who share my passion for this work is proof that I am in the right place at the right time. Learning from national leaders during workshops or at convenings and having critical discussions within our own cohort of Fellows has been invaluable. I think it requires a lot of courage to show up for these conversations, especially for those who are doing this work in states hostile to topics of equity.

I’ve also been able to reflect on how my experience of balancing working full time, my doctoral coursework and navigating the Fellowship reflects the reality our learners have as well when we think about CTE. I know this work is important and answering the call to make an impact for learners should be considered as an issue of national [economic] security. Without a skilled workforce to meet the demands of a changing economy, we’re leaving gaps that will have an adverse impact on generations to come. 

What skills or areas have you experienced the most growth in the program? 

Prior to this Fellowship, I would classify myself as an “emerging data embracer” but I don’t think I was informed at the level that I needed to be. This Fellowship has provided the space and opportunity for me to develop the skills to approach data with an equity lens. Becoming data literate to inform our practices and our work is important as these skills allow us to present a more complete story, and without this, you would not have the entire picture of why we’re seeing certain programs and outcomes. An institution or program is only as strong as the learner with the greatest need, and we cannot allow ourselves to ignore these gaps. 

I also had the opportunity to identify other blind spots in my abilities through our workshops and working closely with my coach.

Have you been tapped for new or more advanced roles within your organization as a result of your experience in the Fellowship? 

I began the Fellowship as a student support specialist for the multicultural program. In this role, I handled case management for our first-generation college students, multicultural program students, and students from immigrant backgrounds whether they’re DACA or recent arrivals to the U.S. Through the Fellowship, I’ve built the confidence and become more informed about CTE and as a result, I applied and was selected to be the Director of Inclusive Excellence. In this role, I oversee the complete suite of student supports offered by my institution, expanding the populations of learners that I support to include veterans, single parents, non-traditional occupations and the mentoring program. Without the Fellowship, I don’t think I would have had the requisite skills to be invited into these spaces to have a larger impact.

I am more confident talking about policy and strategic implementation, identifying friction points for students and developing relationships with internal stakeholders across different departments. Within my institution, I co-led the development of a policy to support learners with limited English proficiency. From there, we went on the develop a language access plan which allowed us to provide accountability for the implementation of this policy. We worked closely with other departments across campus to better understand the climate for learners with limited language proficiency. This work has been fast-tracked after presenting our work to the Wisconsin Technical College System and we’ve received requests for other institutions wanting to replicate our work on their campuses as well as external nonprofit organizations looking to partner with us. 

How has your experience in the fellowship helped you explore new spaces or positions in postsecondary state CTE leadership? 

The Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to look at CTE beyond my institution. The collaboration that happens across Wisconsin’s technical colleges is certainly a bright spot and having these touch points has allowed me to look at CTE through a regional lens and the Fellowship has provided a national context as well.

Embracing data literacy and being more data-informed in my approach to this work has shown me how to be a truth seeker and listen to the learners and constituents of our institution. This Fellowship has pushed me to ask more critical questions and challenge the status quo to understand how to find alternative solutions. I’m asking myself what it truly means to be an advocate for CTE and how to ensure our policies and practices align with this vision. 

How has the Fellowship expanded your network? 

The Fellowship has expanded my network in a number of meaningful ways. My relationship with my mentor has been incredible! At first, I was worried that it would feel transactional or based on checking a box for compliance’s sake, but Dr. Jeanne Arnold is amazing. As a mentor, she is highly supportive and highly encouraging, and our conversations are not limited to CTE. We’re looking at things in an intersectional way to understand how social work and social work policy impact CTE. I also appreciate the wealth of knowledge that is in the network of Fellows. This network with cross-functional dialogues allows us to look at problems in more complex ways and meeting members of the other ECMC Fellowships at the convening was very meaningful.

Have you discovered new opportunities for what a role in postsecondary CTE could look like/the responsibilities of such a position?

My new role as the Director of Inclusive Excellence is new to the college, and so I’m exploring how this position might evolve especially as I continue to build relationships with external partners. I want to consider the scope of this work beyond my institution to better understand how to bridge the gaps for the learner populations my office supports and help them navigate basic needs issues. 

My ideal role is one where I am able to shape policy and work closely with the implementation of that policy to ensure that it has the intended impact. My current position allows me to explore this space and I recently pitched an idea of developing a literacy program to our institutional research team. Last week was the launch of the project and I was pleased to see the number of people in attendance representing cross-functional areas. Our IR team developed the curriculum and the idea is that this would operate as a pop-up where folks can come and interact on demand. I really enjoy being at the college and being able to level set and bring everybody together to positively impact student success and have a sense of belonging and meaningful experiences. Through these efforts, we’re able to develop a common language to create impact and move it forward in sustainable ways.

You can contact Jomarie at   

By Layla Alagic in Achieving Equitable and Inclusive CTE
Tags: , , , , ,