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Ensure CTE Program Success with These 3 Steps

Use these tips to improve your K12 district’s career and technical education programs and integrate hands-on learning into students’ early career paths.

With the cost of higher education giving rise to uncertainty over the value of a college degree, many K-12 school districts are amplifying career and technical education (CTE) programs that incorporate hands-on learning and career-based skills to prepare students for focused career paths after high school graduation. 

High-quality CTE programs have been shown to improve student engagement and increase students’ earning potential. In fact, districts that prioritize CTE programs may significantly lower their overall drop-out rates. However, inadequate or poorly designed CTE programs may inadvertently lead students into low-wage jobs or careers in declining industries. The key to supporting robust and relevant career and technical education lies in monitoring the evolving job market, attending to program outcomes, and facilitating improvement through district community feedback.  

Step 1: Leverage Employment Projections to Boost Career and Technical Education Efficacy  

Implementing quality CTE programs relies heavily on understanding local and regional industry and employment trends. To prepare students for accessible career opportunities, district administrators must analyze employment projections and understand which career options are most stable in the region. Then they need to determine what hands-on skills are needed to achieve required certifications to secure jobs in these in-demand careers. 

 Use these best practices to tailor CTE programs to prepare students for maximum career success:  

  • Investigate state, regional, and local data to identify trending high-growth, high-demand career opportunities. 
  • Engage with key industry, workforce, and postsecondary partners to enhance the district’s understanding of relevant job skills and employer needs. 
  • Analyze district data to identify trends in graduation outcomes and understand CTE enrollment patterns.  
  • Conduct a wage analysis to pinpoint which careers have the strongest growth outlook locally and statewide to ensure students’ future financial security. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will shape your student’s future careers. Help them prepare with guidance from our infographic, AI Best Practices in K-12 Education. 

Step 2: Conduct CTE Program Evaluations  

Budgeting and resourcing remain prime challenges for many districts looking to sustain or expand CTE hands-on learning opportunities, but knowing which programs or interventions actually improve student outcomes is a critical part of making smart budget investments. The most effective way to track programmatic patterns and outcomes is through regular program evaluation. This process provides clear insights into which programs are most likely to yield positive student outcomes and which programs fall short of expectations.  

Successful program evaluation may seem daunting, but it can be done well with careful planning and a strategic approach. Leverage these tips to begin tracking and measuring the success of your CTE programs:  

  • Identify and prioritize your program goals and objectives. Focus on questions such as: 
  • How can we better align our CTE programs with our overall strategic goals?  
  • Which outcomes should we monitor?  
  • Develop answers the following questions, over the course of the evaluation process:  
  • What can we learn from the data? 
  • How will we communicate our findings to the community?  
  • What are our next steps for making program improvements? 

Step 3: Gather Community Feedback to Measure Hands-On Learning Success  

Another aspect of strengthening CTE programs is to solicit feedback from district community groups, including students, parents, alumni, staff, local employers, and higher education institutions.  

Understanding how each group views existing and proposed CTE offerings can help a district further tailor programming to the student body and ensure its overall success. Gathering this feedback is also an opportunity for the district to promote new and existing CTE offerings to families and local community members, gaining program advocates in the process. In this way, feedback acts as a natural advertisement for CTE programming while also helping districts ensure the programs fit the needs of the community.  

With the loss of ESSER funds, it’s vitally important for districts to leverage both qualitative and quantitative data (including community feedback) to make evidence-based decisions about CTE programs and budgets that lead to the greatest student outcomes. Use these best practices when surveying your community for CTE insights:  

  • Always include survey screening questions. These questions may prompt students to provide their grade level and classes to ensure you’re getting feedback from community members associated with your CTE programs.  
  • Make sure surveys are available online and are mobile friendly to accommodate different levels of technology access. 
  • Keep surveys open for two–four weeks. Maximize participation by timing them to avoid state assessment windows, extended school breaks, and the first and last two weeks of the school year. 

Encourage community voice in your district with tips in our infographic Engaging Families and Communities in K-12 Education.  


A traditional college education remains a valuable opportunity for many students to achieve future career success. However, a four-year institution is just one pathway for high school graduates. As more postsecondary options outside of college increase, it’s important to help students broaden their horizons and understand there are many paths to success after high school. No matter the job or career path, all students deserve to receive support, guidance, and hands-on learning that will set them up for long-term success. Districts can help students envision their future potential by leveraging data and research to improve career and technical education opportunities for all. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Program Evaluation

Learn how to measure and refine your hands-on-learning opportunities
Make program and budget decisions that improve outcomes by conducting effective K-12 program evaluations using this simple guide.
Promote effective career and technical education and hands-on learning program success by measuring it.

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