Previous research shows that students who select into career and technical education (CTE) tracks have, on average, lower test scores than their peers. Yet that same body of research finds that, after controlling for test scores, CTE course takers have higher high school graduation rates, overall educational attainment, or earnings. Our analysis reaches similar conclusions, implying that CTE students have an advantage in noncognitive skills that test scores fail to capture.
We find that students who take large numbers of CTE courses by 12th grade had significantly lower 10th-grade test scores. They also have lower self-esteem and motivation in reading and math. These patterns align with conventional perceptions of CTE students—namely, that they are not as academically engaged and adept as their peers.
However, we also find that CTE course takers have other noncognitive skills that are higher than otherwise-similar students. Based on behavioral measures of noncognitive skills, we observe that