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How To Use Data To Build Next Generation Career & Technical Education

Here are 4 ways that school districts can use student data to build next generation career and technical education (CTE).

SchooLinks Staff
SchooLinks Staff

Oct 25, 2021

Thanks in part to Perkins V and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), career and technical education (CTE) departments have become some of the most data-forward departments in education today. That's because a central focus of these funding measures is accountability — the government wants to see a return on the investment they've made in these programs. 

CTE departments and coordinators have to report disaggregated student data about:

  • Student Demographics - Every school district needs to report on disaggregated student demographic data, including race and gender
  • Career Clusters  - Data that demonstrates which of the 16 career clusters  students students participate and concentrate in
  • Concentration - CTE departments need to report on how many students are secondary CTE concentrators (defined at the secondary level as student who has completed at least two course credits in a single CTE program of study or career cluster)
  • Quality Indicators - There are multiple quality indicators that school districts can collect data and report on, including post-program placement and work-based learning participation, among others

Since data collection and reporting is a significant piece of a CTE coordinator's job description, it makes sense to find a way to make the most of those tasks. Student data doesn't just hold valuable insights at the federal and state level. It can be a powerful tool at the district—  and even building level — for building next generation CTE.

See What's Working And What Isn't In CTE Programs Of Study

By choosing the correct denominator and numerator, school districts can see where their CTE programs fit into the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE)'s Framework For High-Quality CTE. Specifically, student data can provide insight into whether or not the curriculum is engaging, standards-aligned, and effective. CTE coordinators can use the data they collect to ask answer questions like:

  • Which programs have the highest rate of initial participation? Are students staying in those programs? Why or why not?
  • Which programs have a higher rate of retention and concentration?
  • Where are the work-based learning opportunities in the community?
  • Is there a need to add or expand programs of study that take advantage of those opportunities?

The answers to these questions can shed light on what's working well, and where changes might be necessary to improve certain programs of study. CTE coordinators might unearth a need to add resources or revisit hiring decisions, engage with new industry partners, or focus on some career clusters over others. 

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Use Student Data Insights To Improve Equity In CTE

We've talked before about how important the ability to disaggregate student data is. Paying attention to special population demographic data can give CTE stakeholders a lot of information about how equitable their programs are. It allows education leaders to get a realistic look into the ways that underserved or minority student populations experience CTE programs of study — and how that experience aligns or diverges from their peers'.

Importantly, CTE coordinators and school districts can use this data to see which programs of study are the most equitable and accessible and where underserved student populations may be experiencing exclusion. They may ask:

  • Do certain programs of study start with high levels of participation in the disaggregate? 
  • Does participation wane in those programs? Why?
  • Is our CTE programming accessible to differently-abled students? Low-income students? LGBTQIA+ students?
  • If we see a lack of inclusion in certain programs, what's causing that?
  • What is the demographic makeup of the CTE concentrator population? Dual-credit earners? Work-based learners?

The first step to correcting a problem or building on an area of success is having a zoomed-out view of what's going on in the first place. Including student voices as school districts explore this data will be crucial. Understanding why students participate — or don't — in CTE programs of study begins with, well, asking them. 

Giving students a safe, anonymous way to talk about what drives their participation, lack of involvement, and loss of interest in a program of study can provide CTE leaders with a better idea of what's behind the trends they observe in the data they collect. 

Link Accountability Data To Outcome Data

CTE accountability isn't limited to secondary education. Perkins V data reporting mandates extend to postsecondary institutions, which also have to report on data that includes quality indicators like postsecondary placement and credentials. 

Understanding how effective the CTE programming school districts offer their students requires having a better picture of where students end up after graduation day. CTE leaders can use the outcome data provided by entities like the National Student Clearinghouse to see which students continue along the CTE pathways they choose in high school. 

With that information, school districts can work to build next gen CTE because they have a bird's eye view into:

  • Which student continue participation in CTE programs of study after they graduation
  • Where CTE students go to continue that participation
  • Which postsecondary institutions attract the most students, and why
  • Which secondary programs of study have higher or lower rates of short- or long-term employment opportunities

Collecting postsecondary student outcome data provides a lot of context for school districts providing secondary CTE programs of study. It allows them to promote or incentivize participation in instructional pathways that lead to high-value credentials after students graduate. 

Increase Stakeholder Engagement In Secondary CTE

Family and industry partner engagement continues to pose a challenge for school districts working hard to build next generation CTE for their students. Sharing the data they collect — always mindful of privacy concerns, of course — can be a surprisingly effective way to do precisely that.

CTE still carries some degree of stigma, and part of that stigma comes from a lack of awareness surrounding what's going on in CTE programs of studies. One of the most impactful things that CTE leadership can do with the data they collect is to fight that stigma while inviting families and industry partners to engage with CTE itself.

Making CTE student data accessible by way of data visualization can help CTE leaders:

  • Recruit parents as advocates with information about how CTE participation leads to better outcomes for students
  • Engage industry partners by demonstrating interest and achievement in relevant careers and clusters within the student population 
  • Secure buy-in from district administrators by using data to outline and celebrate the progress made toward positive student outcomes and equity initiatives


Pitching CTE to students, families, and community partners as a concept can only go so far. Using data visualization to highlight the most important and noteworthy components of why CTE matters is what wins districts the champions that support their efforts outside of the school community.

SchooLinks helps CTE coordinators, programs, and school districts make the most of student data so they can build  next generation CTE with relevant and rigorous programs of study for students. See how the tools and activities on SchooLinks can help link secondary CTE to postsecondary outcomes, close achievement gaps, and scale programs of study.

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