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Study: High School Tech Courses Correlate with Higher GPA and Better Attendance

Recent research on high school students in Florida found that those who took at least one technology course and a technical certification exam tended to have better attendance and a higher grade point average (GPA) than those who didn't. The study, performed by Grunwald Associates, was spurred by access to the data required to carry off the research and corporate support to pay for it.

"Tracking Student Performance in Career and Professional Education" examines the impact of a 2007 law passed in Florida that requires districts to provide courses that lead to industry certification. The Career and Professional Education (CAPE) Act, as it's called, sought, among other goals, to improve academic performance of students "by providing rigorous and relevant curriculum opportunities" that coincide with the needs of employers in the state. The same legislation also mandated that districts set up "academies" to offer the coursework and that the instruction be delivered by teachers who held the same industry certifications.

Although the Florida academies cover a myriad of business segments--from architecture and construction to transportation, distribution, and logistics--The Grunwald study specifically examined the outcome for high school students who took a technology course leading to industry certification. Those courses, the report stated, have about 150 hours of instruction delivered over a year. To get the certification, the student has to pass a proctored exam. Credentials come from organizations such as Cisco, Microsoft, and CompTIA, as well as Adobe Systems, which sponsored the project.

Researchers received data from the state for the school year when the law went into effect, 2007-2008, as well as 2008-2009, when the 67 school districts in the state really began ramping up their career and technical education offerings. In both cases the students turned out to be "disproportionately male, English-speaking, and white compared to students who did not take the technology courses."

What they found was that students who took at least one tech course attended 17 more days of school--an average of 165.2 days--compared to students of comparable demographics. As the researchers pointed out, "Simply attending more days of high school is positively related to high school GPA."

Likewise, students in the tech course also had a higher average GPA, 2.92 compared to 2.55 for the control set of students. Because the tech courses were graded as pass/fail, that average was actually calculated by the grades received in the other courses taken by the technology students. This "counters any notion that the GPAs of students who took technology classes were inflated by the inclusion of grades in courses that some still perceive as 'easy' or less academically challenging than courses in other subjects," the authors noted.

The report pointed out in both cases that the relationship between tech coursework and either attendance or GPA is "correlational, not causal," adding that multiple factors outside of participation in the tech class could also have contributed to the results.

Calling the findings "reason for cautious optimism," Grunwald's report suggested a number of "starting points" for additional research, including exploring how schools promote technology education and studying barriers to participation by girls, English language learners, and minorities.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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