High School Career Technical Education Students' Success and Failure on Industry-Recognized Certification Exams: Implications for School Leaders
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Industry recognized certification exams offer high school students a pathway to financial independence and a foundation from which to further their education. Changes in graduation requirements in the state of Texas due to House Bill 5 allow high school students more flexibility in their schedules and coursework to participate in Career Technical Education (CTE). This change in graduation requirements is a result of industry leaders, legislators, educators and voters acknowledging that the college for all approach is not meeting the needs of the students or the needs of industry. The retirement of baby boomers, the growth of new and old industries, and the rapid technological changes within industries require the development of human capital at the local level, not just to sustain, but also to improve the United States’ position within the global economy. The purpose of this study was to identify distinguishing characteristics between high school CTE students who have obtained industry-recognized certifications and those who have not. Also provided in this study are valuable baseline data that can be used by district leaders to determine the effectiveness of current and future district level CTE initiatives implemented in response to HB 5. The sample group for this study was CTE students from an urban, 6A, predominantly low-income district in the Gulf Coast region of Texas who completed a CTE course aligned to an industry-recognized certification exam during the 2011-2012, 2012-2013, or 2013-2014 school year. Provided in this investigation were descriptive statistics for frequencies and trends in student demographic and achievement data (i.e., gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, middle school achievement, and LEP status) among CTE students who passed, failed, or opted out of taking the following industry-recognized certification exams aligned to their program of study: National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) Core; HVAC Level 1; Autodesk Inventor; Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS): Word, Excel, PowerPoint; Pharmacy Technician; Emergency Medical Technician; ServSafe Food Handler; Cosmetologist Operator License; A+ Certification; STRATA; Adobe Photoshop; Adobe Flash; and Emergency Telecommunicator Certificate (ETC). Proportionate to student enrollment in CTE courses, a small number of students attempted industry-recognized certification exams. This small number, in conjunction with the lack of ethnic diversity within the district and the overrepresentation of Hispanic students in most of the CTE courses, limited the differences that could be distinguished within the demographic and academic performance data that were a part of this study. Non-LEP students who qualified for free lunch and had earned commended performance on the TAKS English Language Arts/Reading and Mathematics tests in Grade 8 were more likely to have earned a certification than other students. This trend was pervasive throughout the study.