Building Academic Skills in Context: Testing the Value of Enhanced Math Learning in CTE


J. Stone
C. Alfeld
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
National Research Center for Career and Technical Education
University of Minnesota
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

An experimental study tested a model for enhancing mathematics instruction in five high school career and technical education (CTE) programs (agriculture, auto technology, business/ marketing, health, and information technology). The model consisted of a pedagogy and intense teacher professional development. Volunteer CTE teachers were randomly assigned to an experimental (= 57) or control (= 74) group. The experimental teachers worked with math teachers in communities of practice to develop CTE instructional activities that integrated more mathematics into the occupational curriculum. After 1 year of the math-enhanced CTE lessons averaging 10% of class time, students in the experimental classrooms performed significantly better on 2 tests of math ability–the TerraNova and ACCUPLACER®–without any negative impact on measures of occupational/technical knowledge.

What the experts say

This resource is of value to the field of adult education and numeracy because it could serve as a model of creating a collaborating model between mathematicians, math educators, and adult basic educators.  In this study, they discussed the implementation of cohort groups that allowed the Career and Technical Education Instructors to work with mathematicians.  This allowed the instructors to be more confident in their understanding of applied mathematics and therefore could relate the lessons back to the traditional CTE curriculum.

Since this country is facing a deficit of a skilled labor force in mathematics, this study could provide a solution by being the model of successful design that other organizations could adapt and utilize.  It is directly applicable to comprehensive community colleges, which often have adult basic/secondary education programs and those technical certificate programs such as welding, nursing, and medical technology. 

For state leaders, this study could assist them in designing effective professional development strategies to create a broader pool of qualified instructors and assist them in forming cohort groups with mathematicians to benefit the population that adult basic educators serve.

The project describes two, inter-related components: pedagogy and process.  One finding was that if either one of the components is missing from the model of professional development and implementation, student math skills will not be improved.

The results of the project also demonstrate that change can occur without a need for a major change in leadership or in the culture within a school.  By assembling teams of instructors and by providing them with the pedagogy and process with which they could enhance math instruction, a “community of practice” was formed and student gains in numeracy were significant.

NOTE:  This is a detailed report of a well-designed experimental study.  This report is lengthy, with chapters on experimental design and with an extensive bibliography.  For the average instructor, it would be well to read the two-page Executive Summary, Chapter 2, “Teaching Math in CTE classrooms; The Seven Elements: Components of a Math-Enhanced Lesson (p.12) and Implications (p.68-69)”

Selected citations:

Orr, B., Thompson, D., & Thompson, C. (1999). Learning styles of postsecondary students enrolled in vocational technical institutes. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 36(4), 5–20.

Slaats, A., Lodewijks, H. G. L. C., & Sanden, J. M. M., van der. (1999).Learning styles insecondary vocational education: Disciplinary differences.Learning and Instruction, 9(5), 475–492.

Levy, F., & Murnane, R. J. (2004). The new division of labor: How computers are creating the next job market. New York: Russell Sage Foundation; Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Silverberg, M., Warner, E., Fong, M., & Goodwin, D. (2004). National assessment of vocational education: Final report to Congress. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of the Under-Secretary, Policy and Program Studies Service.

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