CHEYENNE – One of the biggest pushes in education reform in Wyoming has been to make career and technical education a top priority at both the state and local levels.
But refocusing secondary education to allow students multiple pathways to a well-paying career isn’t as easy as a change in curriculum or opening up scholarships to non-university-bound students.
During a Friday panel on post-secondary preparedness at the National Assessment Governing Board conference in Cheyenne, members of the education and business community said Wyoming’s focus on CTE will pay dividends, both for students and the state’s economy. But there are hurdles to increasing access to CTE at the secondary school level that need to be addressed for Wyoming to see the benefits of the increase in offerings.
One of those is how to fit in new class offerings in CTE when schools are already dealing with massive workloads around standardized testing. Trying to fit in new curriculum, when schools have to worry about how students perform on a test that will determine performance ratings, is a hard ask, said Jay Harnak, superintendent of Sublette County School District 1.
“We know through conversations with our stakeholders they want more opportunities for our students to explore careers, internships, job shadowing,” Harnak said. “One of the things that we deal with on a regular basis is concerns from our staff about curriculum changes. Because it takes an intense amount of time and energy to make a significant curriculum change or add something.”
Sublette has spent a considerable amount of energy on becoming a high-performing district, and there’s a real fear that focusing energy on CTE would eventually hurt it on standardized tests, Harnak said. That creates a barrier to expansive CTE offerings being available to students.
A major point made by members of the panel is how Wyoming will adjust its own analysis of school performance when more and more students shift toward those skills that are necessary for the workplace.
Jillian Balow, Wyoming’s superintendent of public instruction, said the state is still in the process of figuring out how to take into account those types of skills, like computer science or other CTE-related studies, that wouldn’t be measured by a standardized test.
When it comes to the reality of preparing students for the workplace, Balow said she recognizes that being work-ready and passing a standardized test isn’t always the same thing. So the state will continue to figure out how to adjust its assessments to try and capture students who are learning skills that don’t show up in standard assessments.
“We have to look at workplace realities,” Balow said. “What happens in the workplace is not always something you can look at a data point and figure out or get the whole story on.”
Cindy DeLancey, president of the Wyoming Business Alliance, said one of the biggest concerns from her groups is making sure Wyoming is prepared for the future of business, and workers have the required skills needed to succeed in that new workplace. As Wyoming’s economy changes due to the seismic shifts in the extraction industry, DeLancey said the state needs to be prepared to capitalize on new industries.
DeLancey praised Balow and other state leaders, both in politics and business, for pushing hard to emphasize CTE in secondary schools. She said it was a necessary step, but the next step is for the business community to work with educators to create as many pathways as possible for students to prepare for the next generation of jobs.
“What we’re working on as a business community in Wyoming is figuring out how do we put the skin on the bones? How do we work together as collaborative stakeholders to figure out what these next steps are going to be to lead us into the future,” DeLancey said. “We have to work with our education partners to make sure this is something we can all achieve together.”