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.