Written by Kelly McCurdy, Faria Education Group

Career and Technical Education has transitioned from a program offering students minimal qualifications and skills for a job right out of high school to one of a variety of preparation strategies for a long-term career. By design, programs are shifting to a more long-term focus with an expanding pool of contemporary career options. Thus, we must design our curriculum for these programs with a long-term perspective, preparing our students for a variety of opportunities in the post-secondary landscape.

As you map your curriculum for your CTE programs, courses, and units, consider these steps grounded in a backward design framework. These steps should be engaged in with fluidity and flexibility in mind, considering the spirit of the strategy: planning with the end in mind.

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The progression through courses

Successful CTE programs of study begin with broader, exploratory courses and progressively narrow in scope. Consider how the earlier courses equip students for a broad range of 21st century skills, preparing them for both progression through the CTE program and also for a variety of career pathways. 

Sample Programs of Study (☝not all courses are necessarily a full year)
Career/Industry Exploration Course

(Industry, Cluster Specific)

Intro-level Course

(Industry, Pathway Specific)

Specialized Course

(Pathway, Career Specific)

Capstone Course

(Career, Occupation Specific)

Medical Terminology Diagnostic Medicine Anatomy & Physiology Intro to Physical Therapy
Principles of Manufacturing Quality Assurance Concepts & Techniques Welding I Welding II

(Advance CTE, 2014)

As your team drafts the desired outcomes of each course and unit, utilize the reporting features in Atlas to review the progression of focus standards, content & vocabulary, enduring understandings, essential questions, and CTE skills from course to course, unit to unit.

Assessment Evidence & Learning Plans

Stages 2 & 3 of a traditional backward design framework include planning assessments and learning plans. Some programs find value in the articulation of these elements, but many empower their professional learning communities and individual teachers to create and execute these.

Regardless of how uniform or documented these components are in your program, here are some key considerations.

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Once the initial mapping of your CTE programs is complete, the next step is to look to the future to consider a cycle of curriculum review. The strongest review cycles support long-term goals and are data-driven. Implementing a strong review process will support the work done to map out the curriculum in the first place and help meet your curricular goals, both short and long-term.


Advance CTE. (2014). The Common Career Technical Core, Programs of Study & Industry-Based Standards. Silver Springs, MD. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from https://careertech.org/sites/default/files/CCTC-IndustryStandards.pdf.

The Author


Kelly McCurdy is a Professional Development Content Specialist with Faria Education Group, based in Portland, Oregon. She consults with educators domestically and internationally facilitating conversations about curriculum development and pedagogy. Kelly’s first experience in education was teaching secondary Humanities, and has since supported public schools as lead teacher, committee chair, and program director. Kelly earned her Bachelor of Arts in English and her Masters in Teaching from Washington State University.

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