Study finds that students in voc-ed classes with enhanced math performed better on tests

Study results could have profound impact on schools nationwide

In a study led by the University of Minnesota, researchers have found that high school students who took vocational education classes with enhanced mathematics instruction performed significantly better on standardized math tests than students in a control group.

The results of this study could have profound impact on schools and their curriculum for vocational education classes, which are now called Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes, said James Stone III, U of M professor and director of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE). The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Vocational and Adult Education funded the study, titled "Building Academic Skills in Context: Testing the Value of Enhanced Math Learning in Career and Technical Education."

The experimental study, which was conducted during the 2004-2005 school year, involved more than 3,000 students in nine states. It was designed to test a model for enhancing math instruction in CTE courses emphasizing the math that is already embedded in the CTE curriculum. CTE teachers assigned to the control group used the traditional curriculum while CTE teachers in the experimental group partnered with math teachers to create a math enhanced CTE curriculum. Students were pre-tested on their math skills at the beginning of the year and post-tested at the end of the year.

"The study found that schools could have a significant effect on students' grasp of mathematics without investing enormous amounts of time," Stone said. Teachers spent about 10 percent of classroom instructional time teaching the enhance CTE lessons. To learn how to enhance the embedded math, teachers spent five days in the summer at a professional development workshop to learn the pedagogy and create their lessons, then five more days during the course of the year develop new lessons and to refine existing ones.

"When we examined the test results of students in our study, the experimental kids significantly outperformed the control kids," Stone said.

It is important for schools to acknowledge the amount of mathematics that exists within CTE classes and to enhance instruction in context, because many high school students do not have the math skills necessary for today's jobs and college entrance requirements, Stone said.

"Our goal was to help kids master the math necessary for them to be successful in their work arena and not decrease their technical skills. But, it also improved their achievement on math tests," Stone said.

In the researchers' model for improving math skills, they simply emphasized the math already within the curriculum. Teachers worked to make math more explicit in a meaningful context. That means that the math usually found in textbooks is applied in real-life situations in their CTE classes. For example, in a building trades class, they will use the Pythagorean theorem as they construct a building.

A key to the enhanced math success involved teacher professional development workshops and the partnering of CTE teachers and math teachers to create their own enhanced lessons.


Other researchers involved in the study were: Corinne Alfeld, deputy director for research; Donna Pearson, deputy director for professional development; Morgan Lewis, research associate, and Susan Jensen, graduate research assistant.

The final report is available at

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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