This white paper considers course-taking behavior—specifically the a–g subject requirements for the University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU) systems, career technical education (CTE) course pathways, and an integrated course pathway—as potential measures to be included in California’s college and career indicator. The paper begins by presenting a brief overview of the a–g subject requirements and CTE course pathways, their respective histories, their current applications to other state accountability systems, and the connections between both sets of course-taking behaviors. Next, the a–g subject requirements and CTE course pathways are evaluated against the framework being used for all five categories of potential college and career preparedness measures. This white paper concludes with a summary that identifies major strengths, weaknesses, and tradeoffs.
From the Conclusion:
In summary, the evidence suggests that course-taking behavior is a critical component of college and career preparedness by: a) having one of the strongest research bases of all potential college and career preparedness measures under consideration, b) providing tangible educational and career value to students, and c) being a pure measure in terms of the content, skills, and competencies taught in school and student performance. Fair comparisons are complicated by the low a–g completion rate for Hispanic, African American, American Indian, and Pacific Islander students, and students eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch. Teacher and resource inequalities across low-income, low-performing, and high-minority schools also create fairness concerns. Tables 3, 4, and 5 summarize the evaluative criteria ratings.
Many of the systems necessary to effectively incorporate a course-taking behavior measure into the college and career indicator are already in place and most necessary data are currently collected, although improvements to the CTE completion data-collection process are needed. Improving the University of California Office of the President course evaluation system and creating an integrated course pathway measure has the potential to move many of the evaluative criteria ratings from moderate to strong. For example, requiring all CTE courses to be evaluated and requiring all a–g and CTE courses to demonstrate alignment to Common Core or the CTE Model Curriculum standards would strengthen the stability of a course-taking behavior measure. An integrated course pathway measure would simultaneously increase the rigor of both college and career pathways by exposing students and educators to the strengths of both pathways. This type of measure could also create incentives for cross-disciplinary partnerships between core academic and CTE educators, stressing development of essential metacognitive skills, which are facilitated best in transdisciplinary contexts and have been discussed in an earlier white paper in this series.
Integrated course pathways are burgeoning in education. The IB Career-Related Certificate (IBCC) was introduced in 2013. It connects its established university preparatory Diploma Programme with a career pathway accredited at the national, state, or local level. For example, a student might pursue Diploma Programme coursework in biology and a language other than English while also pursuing a health occupations pathway, in order to increase her future employability by enhancing both professional and linguistic competencies. Students must take at least two Diploma Programme courses and can take as many as four in addition to their career pathway to complete the IBCC. However, only schools already authorized to offer Diploma Programme coursework can add the IBCC. Four California high schools (Claremont, Granite Bay, San Jose High Academy, and Walnut) are among the 53 public schools in the US that offer the IBCC. Although instituting this program on a large scale creates its own set of problems, IBCC presents an innovative example that California could learn from and improve upon.
Additionally, an integrated course pathway measure could have unexplored positive social consequences, breaking down barriers between core academics and CTE. An integrated approach might also stimulate examinations of opportunity-to-learn disparities. Ultimately, an integrated measure would likely facilitate school cohesion, which would benefit students directly and might indirectly benefit a–g and CTE educators who would have increased incentives and opportunities to create synergies among curriculum offerings.
Authors: David Conley, Paul Beach, Michael Thier, Sarah Collins Lench, Kristine Chadwick