Monday, March 10, 2014

Can Integrated Academic and Technical Coursework Improve High School Students' Achievement?

By Kristin B. Pierce and Victor M. Hernandez

Dr. Kristin B. Pierce,
Volusia County Schools
A Lingering Issue with Academic Achievement
Despite the call in the early 1980’s for enhanced educational rigor, and subsequent reform movement in the 1990s, U.S. secondary student mathematics and reading performance has remained almost flat for the last three decades (Rampey & Donahue, 2009). Furthermore, research has indicated that the academic performance of occupational concentrators, or vocational education students, falls well below that of non-occupational concentrators (Silverberg, Warner, Fong, & Goodwin, 2004).  In light of such uninspiring trends, curriculum integration resurfaced as a promising educational reform strategy.  Proponents of curriculum integration have suggested that integrative learning can improve student engagement, motivation, and retention of learning because it builds upon higher-order thinking skills through problem solving, collaboration, innovation, and creativity (Caine & Caine, 1991; Faunce & Bossing, 1958). Further, curriculum integration can also help students prepare for work and life in the 21st century (Beane, 1995; Beane, 1997; Vars, 1993).

Yet, although the body of research indicates numerous advantages associated with integrative learning, the many variations in curriculum integration and implementation issues have produced mixed results over the years regarding the impact on student outcomes.  A general pattern of results has emerged from the literature though, suggesting that curriculum integration models featuring higher levels of connections between subjects, may support deeper concept understanding and transfer of knowledge, and result in improved student achievement (Stone, Alfeld, Peasron, Lewis, & Jensen, 2006).  The problem is that there is limited research on student achievement, especially on locally developed curriculum integrating mathematics and reading content into CTE courses.

Can Integrated Coursework Make a Difference in Academic Achievement?
With this background in mind, we sought to determine whether students who participated in CTE courses that integrated core mathematics and reading standards performed better on a test of mathematics and reading skills compared to students who participated in traditional, non-integrated courses.  To guide the study, we used the following questions:
  1. Did CTE coursework that integrated core reading standards improve student achievement as measured by the performance of 9th and 10th grade CTE students on a State Comprehensive Test (SCT) compared to 9th and 10th grade students in non-integrated coursework?
  2. Did CTE coursework that integrated core mathematics standards improve student achievement as measured by the performance of 9th and 10th grade CTE students on a State Comprehensive Test (SCT) compared to 9th and 10th grade students in non-integrated coursework?

To conduct the study, a non-equivalent, quasi-experimental research design was used to investigate the effects of curriculum integration on student performance using a between-subjects, non-equivalent group design, which allowed the assignment of intact classroom sections of students to the treatment and control groups. The intervention stemmed from a district-wide integrated curriculum initiative that resulted in the development of 55 CTE courses during a 6-year period.  The courses featured integrated units connecting state standards for mathematics and language arts and corresponding CTE standards/skills. Integrated units incorporated constructivist activities such as problem solving and project/problem-based instructional elements. The intervention was implemented over a 26-week time period and two measurements (prior achievement scores and post-test scores) were used to compare the treatment group to the control group to determine the degree of change that occurred as a result of the intervention. The mathematics treatment group consisted of 326 9th and 10th grade students and the reading treatment group consisted of 329 9th and 10th grade students.  The control groups were all other 9th and 10th grade students in non-integrated sections of the 13 identified CTE courses. For the analysis, ex-post fact data was collected from only the first 13 CTE courses. Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) was conducted to determine whether the post-test SCT scores for the treatment and control groups differed after the adjustment for the covariates including prior achievement, gender, and grade.

Students Perform As Well or Better in Math and Reading
The integrated CTE courses did improve CTE student achievement in reading as measured by SCT scores.  The post-test scores of the reading treatment group were statistically significant when compared to the reading control group.  The mean difference between the groups (from prior achievement scores to post-test scores) was 8 points with the treatment group scoring 20% higher than the control group.  Further, it was found that prior achievement, gender, and group assignment were significant predictors of post-test scores (p < .05) with prior achievement carrying 99.2% of the variance in the model.  However, the integrated CTE courses did not significantly improve SCT scores of the mathematics treatment group as compared to the mathematics control group.  Although the post-test mean score for the mathematics treatment group was 56 points higher than the mathematics control group, the difference was not statistically significant.  The mean difference between the groups (from prior achievement scores to post-test scores) was only 3 points with the control group scoring 7% higher than the treatment group.  In turn, for mathematics, prior achievement, gender, and grade were significant predictors of post-test scores (p < .05) with prior achievement carrying 99.4% of the variance in the model. These findings suggest that developing a district-wide, integrated curriculum is achievable and mutually beneficial to teachers and students, in particular. Students who participate in sustained integrated programs can perform as well, if not better, than other student. Further, students can also gain benefits that they might not otherwise receive, such as interpersonal support, career planning, work-based opportunities, and other long-term labor outcomes (Kemple, 2008).


Beane, J. A. (1995). Curriculum integration and the disciplines of knowledge. The Phi Delta Kappan, 76(8), 616-622. Retrieved from

Beane, J. A. (1997). Curriculum Integration: Designing the core of democratic society. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Caine, R. N., & Caine, G. (1991). Making connections: Teaching the human brain. Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED335141).

Faunce, R.C. & Bossing, N.L. (1958). Developing the core curriculum. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, Inc.

Kemple, J.J. (2008). Career academies: Long-term impacts on work, education, and transitions to adulthood. Retrieved from Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC) website:

Rampey, B. D., & Donahue, P. L. (2009). NAEP 2008 trends in academic progress (NCES 2009-479). Retrieved from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) website:

Silverberg, M., Warner, E., Fong, M., & Goodwin, D. (2004). National assessment of vocational education: Final report to Congress: Executive Summary. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Education website:

Stone, J., Alfeld, C., Pearson, D., Lewis, M., & Jensen, S. (2006). Building academic skills in context: Testing the value of enhanced mathematics learning in CTE. Retrieved from National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) web site:

Vars, G. F. (1993). Interdisciplinary teaching: Why and how (2nd ed.). Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.

Venville, G. J., Wallace, J., Rennie, L. J., & Malone, J. A. (2002). Curriculum integration: Eroding the high ground of science as a school subject. Studies in Science Education, 37(1), 43-83. doi:10.1080/03057260208560177

Learn more...
To learn more about the the Career Connection project, you may contact Dr. Kristin B. Pierce at 200 N. Clara Avenue, DeLand, FL 32720. Her office phone number is (386) 734-7190, extension 20642, and her email is Below are links to related project resources.

Career Connections Website:
FCAT Connections Project:
Project-Based Learning Course: http:
Career Connection Wiki: //