High school students with IEPs are being denied life-changing Career and Technical Education (CTE) opportunities

Students with disabilities have graduation rates that seriously lag behind general education students. In 2015, 83.1% of general education students graduated, but only 49.8% of students with IEPs did. No one has a magic bullet for fixing this, but Advocates for Children’s latest report, Obstacles and Opportunities, reveals that Career and Technical Education (CTE) may boost graduation rates for some of our students.

One of the reasons that students don’t graduate is struggling with the State’s graduation exams, and CTE provides a promising new pathway for graduation. As of 2015, NYS now allows a student who successfully completes a CTE program and earns a passing score on its assessment exam to forgo a fifth Regent exam. This is commonly referred to as the “4+1” option.

CTE may also be beneficial for students with disabilities because many of its programs are compatible with so-called “active teaching strategies” that incorporate movement, repetition, and other strategies or modes of learning that work better for some kids with developmental disabilities and learning disabilities. CTE has a wide range of disciplines (over 400 programs) that appeal to a variety of interests and skills in such fields and trades as culinary arts, automotive repair, web design, computer science and technology, carpentry, and more; so a student with a special interest may be more motivated to succeed in one of these programs.

Finally, CTE students gain hands-on career-building skills and may have access to internships, mentorships, and job shadowing. So, in addition to boosting matriculation rates, “students with disabilities who successfully pursue CTE are more likely to experience improved prospects for employment, earnings, and overall economic success,” according to the report’s findings. 

Unfortunately, because of changes in the overall job market, enrollment in these specialized CTE programs has become much more competitive. Advocates for Children found that students with disabilities were significantly underrepresented in CTE programs. Some of the many reasons for this, they said, include a lack of awareness among IEP teams about CTE opportunities and a parallel lack of awareness and training among CTE program staff about the diverse abilities of students with disabilities and how to accommodate and integrate them.

A frustrating catch-22 for students struggling with the Regents, who might particularly benefit from the 4+1 option, is that Advocates for Children found that many schools “restrict students from participating in CTE if they have not met Regents exam benchmarks.” Students themselves may also decide against enrolling in a CTE program if they are struggling to prepare for the Regents exams. According to the report, “students trying to fulfill these testing requirements while simultaneously pursuing CTE coursework may feel overwhelmed and forced to make decisions that may not be in their best long-term educational or career interests.” And while the opportunity to take advantage of the 4+1 option is compelling, only a few dozen of the over 400 CTE programs are currently approved as 4+1 options throughout New York State.

If you have a child in high school or who is approaching the high school age, it is well worth your time to read Obstacles and Opportunities in full. You can also find out more about CTE programming on the NYC Department of Education’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) webpage