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Letter to Mr. Gene Dodaro, Acting Comptroller General, U.S. Government Accountability Office

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Murray, Kennedy Request GAO Report to Measure Accountability in Career and Technical Education

Report will examine how states utilizing Perkins Grants are implementing new accountability requirements, whether students are being assessed properly on the skills they will need

Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) requested a GAO report to examine how states are following the accountability rules for the use of federal funding provided for career and technical education. The GAO study will also look at whether students in career and technical programs are being properly assessed so that they have the skills necessary to succeed in the global labor market. Senator Kennedy is the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) Committee and Senator Murray Chairs the HELP subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety.

"Our career and technical education system has become increasingly important in the global economy where more students must have specialized skills and knowledge just to compete," said Senator Murray "That's why we need to ensure that students have access to high quality career and technical education programs. It is also why we need to ensure that we are assessing students in ways that reveal whether they are graduating with the skills that colleges and employers seek."

"Senator Kennedy believes that it's without question that career and technical skills are more important than ever in helping our students meet today's workforce needs," said Kennedy spokeswoman Melissa Wagoner. "When Congress reauthorized the Carl D. Perkins Act in 2006, they took a major step forward in recognizing that standards and assessments are critical to ensuring that career and technical programs are as strong as they can be. Two years after the reauthorization of the Act, Senator Kennedy thinks it's time to see whether these changes are producing the results Congress intended."

The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act provides over $1 billion in Perkins Grants yearly for career and technical education (CTE) programs at both the secondary and postsecondary levels. Congress reauthorized the Perkins Act in 2006 and included a greater emphasis on academic achievement and modifications to accountability requirements. The GAO report that Murray and Kennedy have requested will examine if Congress' goals have been met and help to identify best practices.

The full text of the Muray and Kennedy GAO request follows:

June 12, 2008

Mr. Gene Dodaro
Acting Comptroller General
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20548

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

Changes in the U.S. economy, such as the growth of the technology industry and the strength of international competition, have heightened the need for a skilled labor force. In today's economy, all workers, including those who do not attend a four-year college, need to have a good formal education, have sophisticated technological skills and knowledge, and have the capacity to engage in continuous learning. A strong career and technical education system is a critical tool for ensuring that workers are prepared for the labor market and for promoting economic success.

The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act provides over $1 billion in federal support for career and technical education (CTE) at both the secondary and postsecondary levels. Congress reauthorized the Act in 2006 (Perkins IV) and made several important changes, including a greater emphasis on academic achievement and modifications to accountability requirements. Perkins IV specifies separate core indicators of performance for programs at the secondary and postsecondary levels. Similar to state agencies, local recipients must now establish measures for each of the indicators, and both local and state agencies are required to implement program improvement strategies if they do not meet at least 90 percent of the established performance level for any of their core indicators. In addition, Perkins IV requires that states report disaggregated performance data by the same subgroups (e.g. low-income, special education) defined in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). States also are required to assess the effectiveness of career and technical programs throughout the state and report this information annually to the U.S. Department of Education.

Given the new emphasis on academic and career achievement and changes to accountability requirements, we are requesting that GAO determine the extent to which states have developed the new accountability provisions, including links to NCLB (as required under Perkins IV) as well as skill level and employment gains, and the extent to which the U.S. Department of Education is supporting state CTE efforts.

In addition to state-wide accountability systems of program performance, we are interested in learning more about effective state assessments of student-level achievement under CTE programs. For example, some states have created assessments that measure core academic content but also encompass industry-area skills attainment and college or workplace readiness. Some states have also worked with multiple stakeholders, such as education, workforce, business, and labor to design these assessments.

To get a national picture of student-level assessment under Perkins IV and to better understand which assessments are most effective at connecting CTE learning with student-level academic and workplace success, we ask that GAO conduct a comparative study of state CTE student-level assessments. We request that this comparative study include the content of student assessments, how they are related to the state's CTE curricula, and how effective they are at measuring academic achievement, college preparedness, and workplace readiness.

Specifically:

1. To what extent have the states developed and implemented the new accountability requirements, including meaningful core indicators, performance goals, appropriate links to NCLB, and appropriate measures of skill attainment and employment outcomes;
2. What, if any, challenges have states faced in developing/implementing the new accountability requirements and to what extent has the U.S. Department of Education ensured that states are following these new requirements;
3. How are states assessing their career and technical education (CTE) programs and what are they learning about the effectiveness of their programs; and
4. To what extent does the U.S. Department of Education use state assessment information to help states improve their programs?
5. How are states assessing students in career and technical education courses, and how effective are these assessments at measuring academic achievement, college preparedness, and workplace readiness.

Sincerely,

Patty Murray
U.S. Senator

Edward M. Kennedy
U.S. Senator


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