Hawaii’s recently released school performance results for 2018-19 painted an overall disappointing picture: proficiency in math, science and language arts was the same or slightly worse from the year before.
The student achievement gap had not narrowed. And the chronic absenteeism rate statewide was not on a downward swing.
But one area that showed improvement — a sizable one — was in the area of CTE, or career and technical education, completion. Five high schools reported double digit percentage gains in 12th graders completing a CTE program of study.
“It’s a required elective starting with freshman year,” Aiea High School principal, David Tanuvasa, said of why his school saw its CTE completion rate increase from 46% in 2018 to 76% in 2019.
Tanuvasa has made career and technical learning through various “pathways” one of his priorities since arriving at the school in 2017. The school offers CTE courses in the areas of industrial engineering and technology, health services, arts and communications and natural resources.
Incoming freshmen are asked to take the RIASEC test, a sort of personality test to gauge which career they might be best suited for based on their interests. By sophomore year, students are required to choose a “pathway.” And in order to successfully complete a CTE pathway, students need to accrue three credits.
“CTE completion is supposed to measure college and career readiness,” Tanuvasa said. “It is a foundation of beginning that journey of selecting the type of jobs students might be interested in for the future.”
The gains among area high schools in career and technical ed completion comes amid a greater push statewide to align high school studies with workplace readiness skills for high-demand industries in Hawaii.
Career and technical ed is propped up by federal funding through the Perkins Act. In 2019, Hawaii got $6.1 million in Perkins funding, evenly split between secondary and post-secondary institutions.
‘Making Learning More Relevant’
On Friday, the Hawaii Board of Education will be holding a community meeting with business leaders and members of the public to brainstorm ways to build stronger partnerships between schools and local businesses to better prepare students for those industries.
“It goes along with making learning more relevant,” said board chairwoman Catherine Payne. “We take it for granted when a student will thrive in an area they’re interested in but (schools) need to be in a tighter partnership (with industries) for students to be successful.”
The Hawaii high schools that showed the biggest jump in CTE completion rate over the past year include Aiea High, Kohala High on the Big Island, Baldwin High, Farrington High and Waianae High. Aiea topped the list with a 30 percentage point gain, while the other schools have shown improvements between 21 and 26 percentage points.
Statewide, 56% of high school students successfully completed a CTE concentration, surpassing the state’s 2020 target of 50% in its 14 “student success indicators.” In 2016, just 38% of students completed a CTE program of study.
Advocacy groups praised the progress in recent testimony to the Board of Education, but noted that the state didn’t meet any of its other targets.
“We would like clear articulation why performance has improved or not improved, and specifics about how the high impact strategies such as school design, teacher collaboration and student voice are making a difference on outcomes,” that testimony stated.
At Waianae High, students are required to be in a CTE track starting from sophomore year. It’s embedded into the school structure and through that, students work on something called a “personal/transition plan.” Required to graduate, that serves as a student’s “plan of action” in transitioning to a career or college.
Recent DOE policy changes also point to a greater focus on CTE. Starting in 2018, the Hawaii DOE adjusted the definition of “CTE concentrator” to include students who earn at least a “D” grade or higher (a standard that holds when it comes to academic coursework as well at some schools). Prior to that year, the minimum grade needed was a “C.” Successfully attaining “CTE honors,” however, still requires a “B” or higher.
Career and technical ed remains an elective course of study, however, and it’s not likely to become mandatory anytime soon.
“I can’t say we would expect CTE to be a requirement, because it’s not for everyone,” said Payne, adding that it does hold “relevance for (other) students, because they can take the things they’re learning in the classroom and apply them.”
Finding qualified professionals to teach in this area remains a challenge, so that means a lack of continuity at some programs at area schools.
“I see (CTE) programs come and go,” said Shaun Kamida, a social studies teacher at McKinley High. He used to teach agriculture courses in the CTE department, stitching together a program of study based on Future Farmers of America guidance and the advice of other teachers who had expertise in areas like aquaponics. But the agriculture and natural resources pathway eventually was discontinued.
“CTE teachers in general do a lot,” Kamida said. “Basically they run their own programs. It’s not an ordinary classroom and I think having support for their programs and attracting more qualified teachers in those fields (is needed).”
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