CTE Advise: Advising Tools in Secondary Education


New models of career and technical education (CTE) have expanded student choices and shifted towards high-quality, career-themed programs of study and pathways to careers. Advising within CTE programs plays a key role in guiding student pathway choices and ensuring that career information is received by all students, rather than a select few.

Many schools and districts supplement student career exploration and advising with technology-based advising tools. These tools are designed to help students identify the career interests, aptitudes, and personality traits that could make them successful in a variety of careers, including those they may not otherwise have identified as areas of interest.

CTE Advise: Advising Tools in Secondary Education aims to rigorously test two of the most popular of these tools, Xello and YouScience, to understand whether and how they influence student thinking about career options, choice of relevant CTE coursework and work-based learning options, and decisions about CTE concentration in available pathways and programs of study. A focus of this study is on understanding if these tools contribute to more equitable student outcomes.

With funding from the U.S. Institute of Education Sciences (grant number R305A200307), MDRC’s study will use a rigorous school-level random assignment research design, paired with a study of the implementation of technology-based advising tools and a cost-effectiveness analysis. In addition, MDRC is partnering with Communities In Schools, a nonprofit intermediary that works with over 2,300 schools across the country, and with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to identify potential schools and districts for participation.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The CTE Advise study will use a school-level random assignment research design to determine the effectiveness of the tools within CTE programs. The evaluation includes an in-depth, multi-year examination of program implementation in high schools from districts across the country, an investigation of program costs, and an assessment of the impact of career advising tools on students.

The study will focus on several key research questions:

Impact questions:

  • Do the career advising tools have an effect on students’ persistence in CTE course-taking?
  • Do the career advising tools have effects on students’ own awareness of their career aptitudes and interests and their knowledge of career options and career pathways?
  • Do the career advising tools have effects on student engagement with school and on progression toward graduation?
  • Do the career advising tools promote greater equity in CTE programs?

Implementation questions:

  • What are the conditions under which CTE advising tools are being implemented?
  • To what extent are career advising tools — including training and support related to using and administering the tools — implemented as designed?
  • What is the nature, intensity, and duration of time spent using the tool and interpreting the results?
  • How different are the experiences offered to students in program and comparison schools?

Cost question:

  1. How cost effective are technology-based career advising tools?

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The study will use a three-arm random assignment design to assign schools to receive access to one of the two online advising packages or to a third group that doesn’t receive access during a two-year waiting period. Schools enrolled in the study have multiple CTE pathways available to students and will include schools from a variety of settings and contexts, including those from both small and large districts and from both rural and urban contexts.

The study team will use a combination of quantitative and qualitative data sources to answer the research questions associated with the impact, implementation, and cost studies. These include administrative data, student and staff surveys and interviews, and tool usage data.