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PLEASANTVILLE, N.J. (AP) — Almost three out of every four students at Lower Cape May Regional High School took a Career and Technical Education course during the last school year, one of the highest participation rates in the state.
The Cape May County high school is in front of a growing trend among traditional comprehensive high schools to offer students the opportunity to explore careers while in high school.
Statewide, 79,000 students, or about 20 percent of all high school students, participated in CTE programs during the 2013-14 school year. And, of 909 approved programs, 427 were held in traditional comprehensive high schools. The rest were held at county vocational high schools.
The trend was highlighted in this year's School Performance Reports, compiled by the state Department of Education, which showed for the first time the percentage of students in each high school who are taking CTE courses.
Judy Savage, executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational Schools, said it is a positive trend that comprehensive high schools are increasingly seeing the benefits of CTE programs.
"They are recognizing that students can benefit from being introduced to a career focus in high school," she told The Press of Atlantic City (http://bit.ly/1vb4l0y).
Lower Cape May Regional High School is leading the way, with almost 75 percent of students taking a CTE course. The school ranks fourth in the state among traditional high schools offering CTE courses.
Several other area schools, including Egg Harbor Township, Atlantic City, Hammonton and Middle Township, reported between a third and half of all students taking CTE courses.
All four high schools in Cumberland County show between 40 percent and 50 percent of students taking CTE courses, but that number also includes students who attend the Cumberland County Technical Education Center on a shared-time basis. Cumberland County does not have a full-time vocational school.
LCMR programs include accounting, engineering, television/media production and culinary. Students can earn college credits for some courses; school district Superintendent Chris Kobik said that last year students earned more than 800 college credits.
Students also take the National Occupational Career and Technical Institute, or NOCTI, exams for accounting, business management and Culinary ServSafe certification.
Egg Harbor Township tries to provide a variety of options, including culinary, automotive, computer science, business, education, photography, business and computer-aided drafting and design, or CADD, Assistant Superintendent Kim Gruccio said.
"For the students, it's hands-on and relevant to a career," Gruccio said. "It's a way for them to sample something, see if they might be interested in it as a career before they go to college."
Carmelita Graham, Egg Harbor Township supervisor of CTE and instructional technology, credited the variety of programs for the high student participation rate of almost 50 percent. The district gets some federal funding for approved programs, which require at least three courses in a subject area.
"Students like that they are hands-on courses, and parents want their children to get practical experiences," she said.
Even schools with lower CTE participation are looking for ways to provide students with more CTE opportunities. Greater Egg Harbor Regional's new bond referendum includes adding robotics labs. Mainland Regional is packaging its electives into themed clusters to encourage students to explore career options.
While officials at both the traditional and vocational high schools are touting the benefits of CTE, they are disappointed that the state is not giving them more recognition in the School Performance Reports.
Currently only academic criteria, including SAT scores and AP course participation, are used to grade high schools on College and Career Readiness in the School Performance Reports. As a result, many high schools and particularly vocational schools get very low scores in that area.
"(The criteria) imply that the only students prepared for a career are those that take PSATs, score well on the SAT and take algebra early," Kobik said.
Savage said they are working with the state to find a way to add CTE programs, and they are pleased that at least the CTE percentage chart was added this year.
DOE spokesman Richard Vespucci said they are considering establishing CTE criteria for College and Career Readiness in the future, but right now there is no consensus for exactly what the goal would be, or how it would be established.
Savage said many CTE programs provide students with college credits, and having the state recognize those dual-credit programs in the performance reports would give a more complete picture of the contribution of CTE programs to college and career readiness.
"Having dual credit is part of what raises a program to the next level," she said, citing Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township as a leader in dual-credit programs.
This year, almost 450 area high school students are earning Stockton credits at their high schools. State law requires colleges to develop dual-enrollment agreements with high schools.
The increased emphasis on trying to get students to think beyond their grade point average and AP status is clear at Mainland Regional, where a proposal to eliminate a publicized class rank is partially an effort to encourage students to take courses that interest them and not just those that boost their GPA.
Atlantic County Institute of Technology Superintendent Philip Guenther said he hopes the chart this year will lead to greater state recognition of CTE programs, especially those that include college credits.
"They are as valuable as AP classes," he said.
Cape May County Technical High School Principal Michael Adams said it just doesn't make sense to focus only on the SAT and AP courses.
"It misses all the other things we do as high schools to prepare students," he said.
Information from: The Press of Atlantic City (N.J.), http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com