Career and Technical Education: 7 Key Terms to Know

Mar 01, 2024
Cte terms to know Edmentum article

As is true of all niches within education, there’s no shortage of buzzwords, acronyms, and definitions related to Career and Technical Education (CTE) for administrators and instructors to keep straight. We’ve rounded up the most important terms in the field today to help you stay on top of the latest trends.

Career Clusters

Advance CTE’s National Career Clusters® Framework is intended to serve as means of organizing knowledge and skills into different career pathways to help educators design and deliver high-quality programming that leads students to career success. The Framework identifies 16 different Career Clusters, representing 79 unique Career Pathways.

Advance CTE states that the Career Clusters Framework is meant to serve “…as a useful guide in developing programs of study bridging secondary and postsecondary curriculum and for creating individual student plans of study for a complete range of career options. As such, it helps students discover their interests and their passions, and empowers them to choose the educational pathway that can lead to success in high school, college and career.”

4- and 6-Year Plans

These plans lay out an individual students’ course sequence for core academic subjects (math, ELA, social studies, science, etc.) and electives (including CTE). This ensures that counselors and support teams can put the students in the classes that they are either excited about taking, need to graduate, or are required to take to attain a career certification or experience. Student plans are also used by school and district administrators for program goal setting, staffing, budgeting, and other planning tasks. Here’s a breakdown of what these plans include:

  • 4-year plans are developed, preferably in the 8th or 9th grade to lay out a sequence of academics for individual students. The sooner the pathways are developed, the sooner the students can embark on them and support networks can monitor student progress.
  • 6-year plans can either precede the four years of high school or succeed them. Most commonly 6-year plans include four years of high school and two years of postsecondary education. Sometimes, schools will extend a student’s existing four-year plan in 10th grade to make it a 6-year plan.

Dual Credit / Dual Enrollment

Dual credit programs allow high school students to work on post-secondary curriculum, aligned to relevant state standards and taught by a district employee with adjunct status or a representative of the college. These courses can be taught face-to-face, blended or virtually, with the student earning college credit concurrent to high school credit.

Work-Based Learning (WBL)

This is a method of incubating students to prepare them for college and career experiences. This approach places students in an immersive learning environment that fosters quick analysis and application of knowledge and skills. Examples include job shadowing, internships, and project-based activities connected to actual industry work. These kinds of opportunities provide particularly robust and dynamic learning experiences for students.

Internships and Practicums

Often an internship or practicum is the culminating experience in a student’s CTE pathway, and can be incorporated in a capstone course. In these learning environments, students communicate with their CTE teacher and work supervisor for feedback, grades, and selected areas for improvement. It is of great value for students to journal, develop portfolios, and communicate their experiences with class peers in order to create a learning community and foster improvement.


Externships are opportunities for teachers to gain work experience in industry so that they may infuse those experiences, skills, and resources into their curriculum for students. Externships can be utilized by CTE teachers as well as core academic teachers, from the high school level all the way down to elementary school.

Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs)

These groups provide opportunities for students to engage in projects and competitions to demonstrate their knowledge and skills toward career readiness. They also offer valuable chances to build connections with adults working in industry, and peers who share their career interests. Here’s a few of the leading CTSOs to check out:

Looking for additional info on all things Career and Technical Education? Check out Edmentum’s CTE Workbook for helpful resources on the different career pathways, an overview of implementation models, interactive program planning worksheets, and more to help you design a program that will truly impact student outcomes.

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