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College and Career Readiness: A Comparability Study of PLTW Courses

College and Career Readiness: A Comparability Study of PLTW Courses

As high school students complete learning pathways, assessing each content knowledge and acquisition of transportable skills is critical to understanding the efficacy of that curriculum and its fidelity. This comparability study leverages the Four Keys to College and Career Readiness to identify curriculum that will best serve your school’s STEM and CTE program goals.

About the Study

Through a comparison of Project Lead The Way’s (PLTW) high school courses and End-of-Course (EoC) Assessments completed by Dr. David Conley and Dr. Mary Seburn in December 2022, this study analyzed the content knowledge and transportable skills of PLTW’s high school courses and EoC Assessments using the Four Keys to College and Career Readiness. Using this study, decision makers for high school curriculum can identify the skills that industry and colleges have deemed important for success—and make sure they’re implementing education opportunities that cultivate those skills.

The four key objectives of this study are to:

  • Help inform program improvement for high school administrators
  • Inform ongoing revisions of curriculum and assessments
  • Create confidence that high school pathways and EoC Assessments align or compare well with standards for college and career readiness
  • Provide additional validity evidence that supports the use of course participation, grades, and EoC Assessment scores as an indicator of student college and career readiness

Analysis of PLTW High School Courses

The review of courses was completed using a modified model (Figure 1) based off the Four Keys to College and Career Readiness Model (Conley, D.T. 2007). The modifications to the model for this analysis include combining similar constructs (evaluation and analysis, for example), and emphasizing higher-order skills and strategies (e.g., linking ideas instead of facts or terms) to be more sensitive to the content of PLTW courses. In addition, problem formulation was relabeled as problem definition, a key component of problem formulation that can be more readily recognized in courses. This model contains most of the commonly identified 21st Century Skills. However, it does not include some less-frequently mentioned 21st Century Skills such as media literacy, social responsibility, financial literacy, health and wellness literacy, humanitarianism, or environmental or ecological literacy. This consolidation resulted in the 25 elements listed in Figure 1 against which the PLTW courses and exams were compared.

A list of 25 elements, which is consolidated from the Four Keys to College and Career Readiness Model from Dr. David Conley.

Figure 1

Results of the Study

As a result of the document and item analysis methods used by the researchers, it was determined that overall, each of the 25 elements were covered with variable levels of emphasis as captured in Figure 2. Areas with High Focus were consistently seen in more than 75% of the lessons, Focus elements were seen in 50-75% of the lessons and Emphasis elements were seen in 50% or less of the lessons.

The results of the comparability study on the college and career readiness skills present in PLTW's high school courses.

Figure 2

Additionally, within each course, researchers reviewed the EoC Assessment items. Each course assessed between 4 and 18 elements. A standardized assessment cannot assess all of the 25 elements due to the nature of the skill. Items like motivation, self-advocacy, and citizenship are more appropriately assessed within the course using other course methods like rubrics, scoring guides, peer evaluation, portfolios, quizzes, and classroom tests.

Prevalence of Focus Elements in PLTW End of Course (EoC) Assessments

Figure 3

What are PLTW End-of-Course Assessments?

PLTW EoC Assessments measure subject-matter knowledge and mastery of in-demand, transportable skills in an objective, standardized way that adheres to industry standards and best practices. These assessments:

  • Use applied scenarios and complex item types of assess students’ content knowledge and transportable skills
  • Can be utilized by post-secondary institutions to award a variety of student opportunities, such as college credit, scholarships, preferred admissions, etc.
  • Also measure creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, ethical reasoning and mindset, and communication

On Track for Post-Secondary Success

This comparison study of PLTW’s high school courses and their associated EoC Assessments validates PLTW’s assertion that students who participate in PLTW courses are well-prepared and well-equipped for college and careers after high school. Courses consistently and strongly address all of the elements researchers have shown are essential to post-secondary success. Every PLTW high school course studied addressed all or the majority of the Four Keys' college and career readiness elements, a unique and remarkable find that reaffirms the PLTW mission as realized in the curriculum. Moreover, the EoC Assessments address numerous elements—more than other similar on-demand, standardized assessments, which tend to focus primarily on content knowledge. These findings definitely demonstrate the incorporation of key college and career readiness skills in all courses and EoC Assessments.

"Courses consistently and strongly address all of the elements researchers have shown are essential to post-secondary success."

In a time where colleges are transitioning to “test-optional” for admissions requirements, PLTW’s college and university partners are increasingly utilizing the students’ performance in their courses and on the EoC Assessments to recruit students and provide opportunities like college credit and scholarships. Additionally, PLTW teachers will be able to identify and foster the elements of college and career preparation to help students focus on these important areas. PLTW students are positioned to showcase their foundational knowledge and transportable skills in various ways to assist in achieving postsecondary and career success. Read the full report here.

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Project Lead The Way posits that their courses prepare students for college and careers, ensuring success in both post-secondary and career tracks post high school graduation. It is important to note that the PLTW courses and EoC Assessments were not explicitly designed to align with this comprehensive set of empirically derived college and career readiness elements. However, comparing PLTW offerings with these college and career readiness elements highlights inherent characteristics in PLTW coursework that prepare students for post-secondary endeavors, and the EoC Assessment as an indicator of this preparation. This distinction differentiates this as a comparability study rather than an alignment study. It should not be expected that the courses or exams will necessarily contain all or most of the criteria to which they are being compared. Understanding the college and career knowledge and skills PLTW courses develop in students and how EoC Assessments measure those skills enables PLTW to explicitly share with current and future implementers what their courses provide regarding career and college preparation. This understanding also allows PLTW to evolve courses and exams that enhance the degree to which the courses develop and measure college and career learning skills.