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 first entry in the blog series, we will examine the core programmatic element of standards, curriculum and assessment.
As the backbone of a robust middle school CTE experience, middle grades CTE curriculum should ensure that students are exposed to careers across all 16 Career Clusters®, supplemented by opportunities to dig deeper into career areas of interest. Curriculum and assessments should be based on clear, consistent standards that integrate academic, employability and, where appropriate, foundational technical skills and align to other relevant standards across the education continuum.
A number of states have developed, or are in the process of developing, standards for middle grades CTE and career development. Idaho has taken a rigorous approach to this work, partnering with Education Northwest to gather input from stakeholders through a statewide survey, regional focus groups and research on middle grades standards in other states. This process has led to a set of standards organized around three questions—“Who am I?” (self-evaluation), “What’s out there for me?” (career exploration) and “How do I get there?” (future planning). Ten schools will pilot the standards and associated materials in the 2020-21 school year.
In addition to standards development, states have created curriculum, lesson plans and assessments to help bring CTE and career exploration into the middle grades. For instance, Nebraska has developed a Career Development Model and Toolkit that includes a library of lesson plans for PK-12 learners that can be filtered by each of the state’s career readiness standards. The Technical Assistance Center of New York has developed rubrics to support CTE teachers in assessing life/career competencies in the middle grades. Teachers can create their own customized rubrics.
On the local level, Peoria Unified School District in Arizona has built a two-year curriculum for seventh- and eighth-grade students called Technology, Life & Careers (TLC). The TLC curriculum includes classroom- and lab-based instruction across multiple CTE subject areas as well as career assessments and interest inventories, work-based learning experiences and career and technical student organizations. The program culminates with students taking a deep dive into their career areas of interest and beginning their state-mandated Education and Career Action Plans.
As you reflect on this element of middle grades CTE in your state, district or school, consider such questions as:
- Do middle grades CTE standards apply to all students or only to students who enroll in specific courses?
- Do the standards and related curriculum balance breadth of career exploration with depth of knowledge?
- How are middle grades CTE standards aligned with standards for career development across the K-12 system?
- What role do employers play in developing or validating middle grades standards and providing input on specific curriculum or assessments?
For additional resources relevant to middle grades CTE standards, curriculum and assessment, check out the Middle Grades CTE Repository, another deliverable of this Shared Solutions Workgroup.